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Something is producing weird orbits in the Kuiper belt — is it 'Planet X' or something else?
Some have suggested that there is no hidden giant out there.
- Some objects at the edge of our solar system have unusual orbits — they cluster together suggesting a large celestial body is pushing them close together.
- Instead of a massive unfound planet, it may be the gravitational pull from an equally massive disc of small, icy objects.
- Researchers created a model of such a disc that explained everything.
It's clear that something is warping the orbits of objects out at the edge of our solar system, but what that might be remains a matter of conjecture. Probably the most exciting theory is that it's a thus-unseen massive object popularly dubbed "Planet 9" or "Planet X," probably a better name as long as there's some debate about the status of the original Planet 9 — Pluto — and since "X" suggests the unknown at the same time as it's the Roman numeral for 10.
In any event, some have suggested that there is no hidden giant out there, but that the orbital distortions we're seeing are due to the pull of combined gravitational forces from a group of smaller trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) in the icy Kuiper belt. This idea just got a strong boost from Antranik Sefilian, University of Cambridge, and Jihad Touma of the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.
They have, for the first time, developed a model that demonstrates how such a combination field could generate precisely the mysterious orbits that have been observed.
The problem Planet X solved and the problem with Planet X
Out at the edge of our solar system is an area of dwarf planets and icy rocks, the Kuiper belt. By and large, the orbits of these bodies, Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) , are influenced by our system's giant planets — Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. However, a few years ago, five KBOs caught astronomers' attention by having orbits that cluster together, suggesting that some single thing is pushing them into close proximity to each other. (As of this writing, about 30 of these outliers have been spotted.)
Crunching the math to figure out what could be doing this led Caltech astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown to propose the existence of a perturber, a massive planet that's 10 times the size of Earth and has an orbit extending some 20 times farther away from the Sun than Neptune. A full circuit would take Planet X between 10,000 and 20,000 years. By comparison, Neptune only requires 165 years to orbit the sun.
The main problem with Planet X is obvious. Astronomers' best efforts to see it, thus confirming its existence, have come up short so far.
KBOs for the TKO?
Image source: Mopic / Shutterstock
"The Planet Nine hypothesis is a fascinating one, but if the hypothesized ninth planet exists, it has so far avoided detection," says Sefilian. "We wanted to see whether there could be another, less dramatic and perhaps more natural, cause for the unusual orbits we see in some TNOs. We thought, rather than allowing for a ninth planet, and then worry about its formation and unusual orbit, why not simply account for the gravity of small objects constituting a disc beyond the orbit of Neptune and see what it does for us?"
So Sefilian and Touma began modeling behavior of the TNOs in the presence of the known solar system planets plus a disc of small icy bodies, out beyond Saturn, that together had a mass roughly that of the proposed Planet X. Their initial virtual disc explained the orbits of some of the observed TNOs, though not all. When they started playing with the composition of the disc, however, the remaining TNO orbits could be accounted for.
One potential gotcha with the disc hypothesis is that in order for a disc of sufficient mass to exist, the mass of the entire Kuiper Belt would have to be somewhere between a few times and 10 times Earth's mass.
Of course, Sefilian's and Touma's disc is thus far as unseen as Planet X. "The problem," explains Sefilian, "is when you're observing the disc from inside the system, it's almost impossible to see the whole thing at once. While we don't have direct observational evidence for the disc, neither do we have it for Planet 9, which is why we're investigating other possibilities. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that observations of Kuiper belt analogs around other stars, as well as planet formation models, reveal massive remnant populations of debris."
So, Planet X or the newly proposed disc? Not need to choose yet, Sefilian says. "It's also possible that both things could be true — there could be a massive disc and a ninth planet. With the discovery of each new TNO, we gather more evidence that might help explain their behavior."
- 'The Goblin' dwarf planet may lead us to Planet Nine - Big Think ›
- Why Planet Nine Is so Difficult to Find - Big Think ›
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Why do so many people encounter beings after smoking large doses of DMT?
- DMT is arguably the most powerful psychedelic drug on the planet, capable of producing intense hallucinations.
- Researchers recently surveyed more than 2,000 DMT users about their encounters with 'entities' while tripping, finding that respondents often considered these strange encounters to be positive and meaningful.
- The majority of respondents believed the beings they encountered were not hallucinations.
What are DMT beings?<p>Do DMT entities actually exist in some other dimension, or are they hallucinations that the brain generates when its visual processing system is overwhelmed by a powerful tryptamine?<br></p><p>The late American ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believed that DMT beings — which he called "machine elves" — were real. Here's how he once <a href="https://www.ranker.com/list/dmt-machine-elves-facts/inigo-gonzalez" target="_blank">described</a> one of his DMT experiences:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope's private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I've never actually gotten over it.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!"</p><p>McKenna believed machine elves exist in alternate realities, which form a "<a href="https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/old-favourites-the-archaic-revival-1991-by-terence-mckenna-1.3924887" target="_blank">raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien.</a>" But he was far from the first to believe that DMT is a doorway to other realms.</p><p>Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have used ayahuasca in religious ceremonies for centuries, though no one is quite sure when they first started experimenting with the psychedelic brew. The Jibaro people of the Ecuadorian rainforest believed ayahuasca allowed regular people, not just shamans, to <a href="https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10214/17902/RichardsonG_202004_HonThesis.pdf?sequence=3" target="_blank">speak directly to the gods</a>. The 19th-century Ecuadorian geographer Villavicencio wrote of other Amazonian shamans who used ahaysuca (known as the "vine of the dead") to contact spirits and foresee enemy battle plans.</p><p>In the West, research on DMT experiences has been sparse yet interesting. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some of the first human DMT trials at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. He found that <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">"at least half"</a> of his research subjects had encountered some form of entity after taking DMT.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences," Strassman wrote in his book "DMT The Spirit Molecule".</p>
Manuel Medir / Getty<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny."</p><p>It's also worth noting that not all people who smoke DMT see beings, and that some see beings that look <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">nothing like elves or aliens</a>. The diversity of these reports seems to count against the argument that DMT beings exist in some objective alternate reality.</p><p>In other words, if DMT beings exist in some other dimension, shouldn't they appear the same to anyone who visits that dimension? Or do the beings assume a different appearance based on who's looking? Or are there many types of beings in the DMT universe, but most look like elves? </p><p>You might start seeing elves just trying to sort this stuff out.</p><p>Ultimately, nobody knows exactly why DMT beings take the forms they do, or whether they're just figments of overstimulated imaginations. And the answers might be beside the point. </p><p>In the recent survey, 60 percent of participants said their encounter with DMT beings "produced a desirable alteration in their conception of reality whereas only 1% indicated an undesirable alteration in their conception of reality."</p><p>DMT beings may be nothing more than projections of the subconscious mind. But these bizarre encounters do help some people find real meaning, whether it's through personal revelation or the raw power of ontological shock.</p>
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A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.
- In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
- Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
- It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
Talkspace.com<p>Former employees also questioned the legitimacy of certain interventions by the company into client-therapist interactions. For example, after one therapist sent a client a link to an online anxiety worksheet, a company representative instructed her to try to keep clients inside the app.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was like, 'How do you know I did that?'" Karissa Brennan, a therapist who worked with Talkspace from 2015 to 2017, told the Times. "They said it was private, but it wasn't."</p><p>Other former employees said the company would pay special attention to its "enterprise partner" clients, who worked at companies like Google. One therapist said Talkspace contacted her for taking too long to respond to Google clients.</p><p>Talkspace responded to the Times with a Medium <a href="https://medium.com/@founders_22883/talkspace-founders-respond-to-a-new-york-times-article-78d6f5c45c59" target="_blank">post</a>, which claimed the Times report contained false and "uninformed assertions."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Talkspace is a HIPAA/HITECH and SOC2 approved platform, audited annually by external vendors, and has deployed additional technologies to keep its data safe, exceeding all existing regulatory requirements," the post states.</p>