Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy

, Volume 116, Issue 4, pp 357–366

Perspectives on effectively constraining the location of a massive trans-Plutonian object with the New Horizons spacecraft: a sensitivity analysis

Original Article


The radio tracking apparatus of the New Horizons spacecraft, currently traveling to the Pluto system where its arrival is scheduled for July 2015, should be able to reach an accuracy of 10 m (range) and 0.1 \(\text{ mm } \text{ s }^{-1}\) (range-rate) over distances up to 50 au. This should allow to effectively constrain the location of a putative trans-Plutonian massive object, dubbed Planet X (PX) hereafter, whose existence has recently been postulated for a variety of reasons connected with, e.g., the architecture of the Kuiper belt and the cometary flux from the Oort cloud. Traditional scenarios involve a rock-ice planetoid with \(m_\mathrm{X}\approx 0.7\,m_{\oplus }\) at some 100–200 au, or a Jovian body with \(m_\mathrm{X}\lesssim 5\,m_\mathrm{J}\) at about 10,000–20,000 au; as a result of our preliminary sensitivity analysis, they should be detectable by New Horizons since they would impact its range at a km level or so over a time span 6 years long. Conversely, range residuals statistically compatible with zero having an amplitude of 10 m would imply that PX, if it exists, could not be located at less than about 4,500 au (\(m_\mathrm{X}=0.7\,m_{\oplus }\)) or 60,000 au (\(m_\mathrm{X}=5\,m_\mathrm{J}\)), thus making a direct detection quite demanding with the present-day technologies. As a consequence, it would be appropriate to rename such a remote body as Thelisto. Also fundamental physics would benefit from this analysis since certain subtle effects predicted by MOND for the deep Newtonian regions of our Solar System are just equivalent to those of a distant pointlike mass.


Planets Planet X Range perturbations 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca (M.I.U.R.)BariItaly

Personalised recommendations