Planet Nine: “An Uneasy Exhilaration”

by Paul Gilster on January 21, 2016

In the past few years, several readers have talked to me about changes to the comment format on Centauri Dreams. In particular, some way of setting up comment ‘threads’ seemed to make sense, and there are various plugins to make this happen. Thanks to all for their input, and in particular Michael Spencer and Daniel Suggs, the latter of whom suggested I check with Judith Curry, who runs the Climate Etc site. A few tweaks with the aid of Dr. Curry and it was done. The new format became available as of last night and I hope the ‘reply’ function proves useful.

On to the Ninth Planet

What stirred me about yesterday’s story on a possible ninth planet was the involvement of Caltech’s Mike Brown, whose general disbelief in any large outer system planet was known. But as Brown tweeted yesterday, he’s now a believer in a nine-planet system (the reference being to Pluto, the planetary status of which was demoted not long after Brown’s discovery of Eris). If Brown were involved, this promised to be pretty solid evidence, even if we didn’t yet have a planet to look at through our telescopes.

The image below, taken from the new Search for Planet Nine site, helps make sense of the evidence that leads us to a putative new planet. Back in early 2015, we looked at a paper by Chadwick Trujillo and Scott Sheppard (Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington) that made the case that Sedna and other ‘extreme trans-Neptunian objects’ (ETNOs) could signal the presence of not only a large number of similar objects, but a much larger planet. See A Dwarf Planet Beyond Sedna (and Its Implications).

Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin used the Trujillo/Sheppard paper, and the discovery of 2012 VP113, also on a Sedna-like orbit, as an inducement to push further into the idea of an outer system planet. This is what Batygin says in an entry on the site:

Prompted by their discovery of 2012 VP113, a second object residing on a Sedna-type orbit, Trujillo and Sheppard pointed out that all Kuiper belt objects with orbits that do not veer into inter-planetary space and spend longer than approximately 2000 years to complete a single revolution around the Sun, tend to cluster in the argument of perihelion. As it turns out, this clustering represents only a part of the full picture. A closer look at the data shows that six objects that occupy the most expansive orbits in the Kuiper belt (including Sedna and 2012 VP113) trace out elliptical paths that point into approximately the same direction in physical space, and lie in approximately the same plane.


Image credit: Mike Brown/Konstantin Batygin/Caltech.

What’s immediately striking here is that Batygin and Brown could use perturbation theory to see what should happen given the gravitational influence of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The orbits in question should become randomly oriented over a timeframe much shorter than the age of the Solar System, which means that we can’t harken back to something that happened billions of years ago. Something must be holding these orbits together now.

Looking back at data from Trujillo and Sheppard, Batygin and Brown could, as Batygin says, see that the long axes of the orbits traced out by these distant objects tended to point in the same direction, providing further evidence of something larger influencing these objects. But add a large planet into this scenario and we should see a set of objects whose orbits are sharply tilted when compared to the plane of planetary orbits. And in fact we do know of six objects that behave exactly like this.

What we need to do now is to find the possible planet and take its picture, because all we have is the inference of a planet based upon orbital anomalies in a small number of outer system objects. But the model that the two researchers have developed combines a number of interesting points about the Kuiper Belt as we know it. Batygin adds:

In the end, our model ties together three elusive aspects of the Kuiper belt (namely, physical alignment of the distant orbits, generation of detached objects such as Sedna and the existence of a population tracing our perpendicular orbital trajectories) into a single, unifying picture. As a dynamical model, this appears compelling. But it is simultaneously important to keep in mind that until Planet Nine is caught on camera, it remains a theoretical prediction.

Until we actually see a new planet, both Batygin and Brown will probably continue to experience what the former calls “an uneasy exhilaration.” Meanwhile, the idea that there may be a planetary discovery of the kind Percival Lowell was looking for — a large world deep in the outer system — awakens an almost atavistic enthusiasm. I’ve always been open to the idea that there must be undiscovered planets in our system, but something ten times the mass of the Earth seemed out of the question. Now we have to find out if, as in the case of Neptune, precise mathematical calculations can indeed lead us to an object we can see.

The Brown and Batygin paper is “Evidence for a Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System,” Astronomical Journal, published online 20 January 2016 (full text). Trujillo & Sheppard’s paper is “A Sedna-like body with a perihelion of 80 astronomical units,” Nature 507 (27 March 2014), pp. 471–474 (abstract).


Shane Carty January 21, 2016 at 12:02

Do we know what kind of telescope would be needed to image such an object? And have they started any type of meaningful search?

Paul Gilster January 21, 2016 at 13:36

Shane, this snip from the recent Scientific American piece on Planet Nine ( suggests the Subaru instrument:

“Even at that enormous distance, Planet Nine could in principle be spotted with existing telescopes—most easily with the Japanese Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, which not only has a huge mirror for trapping faint light but also a wide field of view that would allow searchers to efficiently scan big swaths of sky. ”“Unfortunately, we don’t own the Subaru,” Brown says, “which means we’re unlikely to be the ones who find it. So we’re telling everyone else where to look.”’

Shane Carty January 21, 2016 at 14:19

That’s great thanks Paul, here’s hoping they manage to find it, so much for the initial reconnaissance of the solar system being complete!

Ulrich Steffen January 23, 2016 at 7:19

The Subaru website already deals with the subject:

djlactin January 21, 2016 at 12:33

It’s only fair: Brown owes us a planet.

Paul Gilster January 21, 2016 at 13:37

Ha! Even he would have to admit that!

RobFlores January 21, 2016 at 12:38

Thinking of possible false positive candidates.
What about a slow passing cold molecular cloud with a
tendril whose center of mass is the target theoretical planet 9.

Doing some quick math. if we assume a conical cloud
some 400 AU long and radius of 50 AU it would yield (using Miles)
a structure of a volume of (PI x R^2 x (h/3) or
PI x(93^6 x 50) ^2 * (400 x 93^6 / 3) = 8.42 ^ 29 approx. cu mi.

if a cubic mile of this cloud weighed 1/100 gram. (pretty damn thin)
then the total mass of the cloud would be 8.42 ^ 24 Kg. The Earths
masses 5.972 10 ^ 24 Kg.

Even if evidence is against this, I still wonder what the effect of such a cloud would be.

Michael Spencer January 22, 2016 at 7:44

Reading your comments (and calcs) I couldn’t help thinking of Lisa Randall’s musings on dark matter and the dinosaurs, a book I’ve yet to complete.

Steven Torry Rappolee January 21, 2016 at 13:02

Some thoughtful researcher tweeted that the statistical ratio could be a little higher to bring on board more skeptics

Terry Moseley January 21, 2016 at 13:32

I’m not doubting the validity of this work, but it is worth remembering that the simulations they did for the evolution of the outer solar system was based on the present orbits of the planets from Jupiter to Neptune. But we are fairly sure that those orbits have changed dramatically since the formation of the SS.
Yet the putative object must have been there for some considerable time in order to configure the orbits of the other extreme Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt Objects – since the orbital period of ‘Planet Nine’ is so long, and those of the other objects almost as long, there have been a limited number of opportunities for gravitational perturbation by Planet Nine.
Still, it seems a convincing model. I hope they’re right.

Michael January 21, 2016 at 14:32

Since the formation of the SS it would have had around 2 to 400 000 orbits which is plenty of time to change the orbits. The fact that their orbits point in the same general direction and have those elliptical orbits is statistically very encouraging.

Now how did the ‘planet’ get into that orbit which raises even more questions, could the interaction with the early Kuiper belt push it into that orbit or was it Jupiter and Saturn.

DJ Kaplan January 21, 2016 at 13:50

Until we know that it has cleared the neighborhood in its orbit, this is no more a planet than Pluto is.

And no I am not bitter about Pluto’s re-classification.

Randy McDonald January 22, 2016 at 11:47

We can be reasonably sure it has because of the effect it has had on those other KBOs, shifting them into different orbits.

Alex Tolley January 21, 2016 at 14:03

Any possibility this could be a planet captured from a close passing star in the past. Could this account for its inclined orbit?

Marshall Eubanks January 21, 2016 at 14:16

I would expect a distant superEarth to have a thick atmosphere, something like Neptune. (Note that if it still had its hydrogren, it might have a warm surface and so could potentially have life and even oceans on the surface.)

Sedna was discovered at magnitude 20.8 and at 85.8 AU.
V774104 (still not in the MPC!) was discovered at magnitude 24 and at 103 AU.

Neptune is at 30 AU and magnitude 8. If we assume it keeps the same size and albedo at larger distances,

At 400 AU it would be magnitude 19.2
At 600 AU it would be magnitude 21, and so would probably have been detected in the surveys that found Sedna.
At 1200 AU it would be magnitude 24, and thus detectable, but probably not yet detected (are there any full sky or helf sky surveys down to magnitude 24?).

If Neptune was the size of the Earth, but with its current albedo these magnitudes would be larger by 0.5 – or, the distances closer by roughly a factor of 2 for the same magnitudes.

And, of course, this object could be in a location where it would be confusion limited, and would move pretty slowly.

But, all in all, this does not seem that impossible optically with current technology.

Hop David January 21, 2016 at 17:02

An infrared scope might be a good search tool for those objects too far from the sun to reflect much visible light.

Eniac January 22, 2016 at 11:38

I agree with your magnitude numbers, but this planet would have considerably less proper motion than Sedna, so the assumption that it would have been found at 600 AU seems questionable to me.

Spaceman January 21, 2016 at 14:19

BICEP2, Alpha Centauri Bb, FTL neutrinos, ….Planet Nine? I hope not, this one does seem more legit. Though I worry that with enough of these big announcements, some of which were eventually disproven, an already anti-intellectual public will grow more and more likely to distrust scientists. Of course, this is not necessarily the scientists’ faults, as the press often takes off with these albeit exciting developments and runs with them. That said, assuming this amazing putative discovery pans out, how long would it take a probe based on current technology to reach Planet Nine way out there on the frigid fringes?

ljk January 21, 2016 at 15:23

That is because an alarming number of the general public do not understand the scientific method, to say nothing much of science in general. They often view it as just another belief system.

It also doesn’t help that the media is almost literally crowing PLANET X FOUND! and only later in their pieces do we see the scientists involved saying this is not a done deal yet, just a smoking gun.

On top of this, already the public is asking when can we send a space mission to this alleged object and why hasn’t it been seen before since it is part of our Sol system when astronomers can already detect alien planets in other star systems much farther away?

It used to be I would say that scientists and educators need to step up their game to improve science education, but in the end people are not going to be into science the larger Universe if it does not excite them or, more importantly, feel part of their lives. Hopefully once humanity starts expanding into space and people actually live “out there”, the collective mindset will change. Until then, space will remain largely academic and for many in the general public, learning is akin to visiting the dentist, to be done only when necessary and avoided otherwise.

Mike Fidler January 21, 2016 at 18:29

Feel part of their lives is exactly the problem , the public can no longer see the beauty of the heavens because of light pollution.
They can no longer relate to it anymore then an ape in a cage can relate to the jungle. It not about science it is about real wonder!

Ashley Baldwin January 21, 2016 at 14:24

So if it isn’t to be Brown , he and Batygyn will have to play Le Verrier to an as yet unknown Johann Galle as the only other pair to discover a planet in modern times. Brown is quoted as not feeling he owes anything over PLUTO but is glad to please his daughter who has told him to find another planet and stop making so many people sad.

Ashley Baldwin January 21, 2016 at 14:34

Actually apart from increasing the credibility of the “discovery ” I think it reflects incredibly well that such a “non believer” as Brown could maintain such an open mind as to follow up so thoroughly on what was really only a combination of circumstantial evidence and a hunch.

Apart from ” Theseus” , I thought maybe “Styx” as a name given the neighbourhood and locals and hoping that Brown doesn’t end up to his neck in it if everything falls through.
Meanwhile on Mauna Kea the Suburu began to creak …….

Melissa January 24, 2016 at 15:19

Has Styx already been used as a name for one of Pluto’s moons?

Marshall Eubanks January 21, 2016 at 14:50

On finding planet X:

Sedna is right now at 3 hr RA +7 deg dec with a period of 11429 yr
2012 VP113 is right now at 3 hr RA + 1 deg dec with a period of 4287 yr

Note that the period ratio there is 2.66597. That is very close to 8/3, which would be of course 2.666667 – the ratio of the ratios is 1.00026.

That means that every 34,287 years Sedna makes 3 perihelion passages, and 2012 VP113 makes 8. I would make a guess that that is not an accident. Could it be that the period of Planet X is 34,287 years, for a semi-major axis of 1055.4 AU? If it comes down to 100 AU, it would have an eccentricity of 0.905.

In this model, Planet X has a perihelion distance near 100 AU and has simply swept away everything that isn’t opposed to it (i.e. far from the Sun when it is near to the Sun). So, Planet-X controlled Sednoids should have periods of 34287 yr / N, where N is some integer.

In this model, Planet X could be located right now at aphelion, around 15 hr RA, maybe -4 deg declination, and at a distance of 2011 AU. If it was a Neptune, it would have a magnitude of ~ 26.3. Good hunting !

One thing you could do is to look for more Sednoids near perihelion at 3 hours 0 – 10 dec. There should be (in this model) more such objects with perihelions near this location, with orbital periods of 4285, 8571, 11429, etc., years, and we might get lucky and find some going through perihelion passage this century.

Ricardo Orsini Amarante [ROCA] January 21, 2016 at 14:56

Such a Neptune class planet would have to be at 2.000 AU or more or it would have been detected by WISE. Let´s remeber these articles:

Ashley Baldwin January 21, 2016 at 15:17

See “David Black” and “Joy’s “responses to Joshua Pepper under first Planet 9 post for suggestions.

Kappy January 21, 2016 at 17:17

The find planet nine blog addresses this:

There are several possibilities that it’s at greater than 500 AU and dimmer than 22 Mag with a slow enough proper motion AND potentially in the galactic plane, where current surveys would not yet have identified it.

Ashley Baldwin January 21, 2016 at 15:26

Sorry ! A telescope that promoted the name “Super Earth” more than anything and a man whose laws helped pin it down , how about “Kepler” as a name for Planet X, sorry , “9”

Mike Fidler January 26, 2016 at 3:05
Mike Fidler January 26, 2016 at 3:21

Yea, but where does the eyepiece go? HaHa

Marshall Eubanks January 21, 2016 at 15:35

From looking at the paper, I realize I have the orbit backwards – the ap and perihelions need to be flipped.

Planet X at perihelion would be near 15 hr RA, -4 deg declination. I fear it would be too bright to have evaded detection there, and at any rate in this simple model it would be much more likely to be near aphelion right now.

Planet X at aphelion would be near 3 hours +4 deg dec, but still at a distance of ~2011 AU. If it were a Neptune, it would still have a magnitude of ~ 26.3; an Earth sized body with the albedo of Neptune would have a magnitude of ~ 27 at that distance. As I said before, that is a difficult but not impossible magnitude for modern technology to reach. The LSST should get to mag 24.8 in a 30 second single look exposure; that 8 meter telescope could detect a 27th magnitude object with a 2 hour exposure.

Mike Fidler January 24, 2016 at 19:13

You should be able to reach a deeper magnitude with LSST via stacking, the only problems is how fast Planet 9 will be moving at perihelion. The big advantage to this will be the wide field but the time between exposures will be around 3 days if I remember right.

Conrad January 21, 2016 at 15:46

How dark and how cold is an extreme ice giant likely to be? How dark and how cold is possible? Given the implied orbit a captured interstellar wanderer seems possible -> that could be very cold indeed, no?

Even a SS native, low-metal planet could get chilly. I wonder how relevant comparisons to Neptune actually are.

Ashley Baldwin January 21, 2016 at 20:03

Comparison to Neptune very relevant . “Planet 9″ is it’s likely sibling. The Brown findings are very much inspired by a paper on the formation of the ice Giants ,Neptune and Uranus and their fates. Simulations most commonly showed three such planets forming ,with one significantly smaller than the other two and subject to SS ejection entirely or into an eccentric distant orbit if migration and interaction with Jupiter and Saturn as per the “Nice” and “Jumping Jupiter” theories were factored in.

ILTIS January 24, 2016 at 13:24

Such a big planet should be still hot inside. As according to Nice model, it should have moved 800My after the formation of solar system, it should have an H2/He atmosphere as Neptune. So it should be quite similar.

Adam January 21, 2016 at 17:01

There’s several compositional possibilities. If it’s a sibling of Uranus/Neptune, then it’s likely to be a “Carbon Monoxide Ice-Giant”, thus mostly C/O in composition, with captured H2 reacting to form CH4 and H2O. If it’s an Ocean Planet that’s half ice, then there’s a real chance it’ll be covered in a warm ocean if the captured primordial H2/He isn’t too thick.

On a sad note, there’s no chance in Hell that it’s H2 has condensed. Any silicate fraction is probably enough to keep the hydrogen gaseous. A pure helium atmosphere would’ve made it a more exotic prospect.

ljk January 21, 2016 at 17:27

AmericaSpace take on “Planet X-9″:

Terry Moseley January 21, 2016 at 17:43

From the formation of the Solar System, yes. But the disturbance of the orbits of the major outer planets probably happened significantly later than the formation of the SS.
Still plenty of orbits, but there would be other chaotic factors too, e.g. the close passing of other stars, GMCs etc.

Ashley Baldwin January 21, 2016 at 18:05

Though a very solar system phenomena this is a very extrasolar sort of planet ( to date anyway or until found ) , a Super Earth in every sense of the word . It will be interesting to see what the Super Earth officianados like Sasselov have to say about it.
Given its small size by ice giant standards anyway, lots of options may apply as to its nature . If is indeed near aphelion and worse still near the galactic plane we may well have to wait till the LSST is up and running as the ideal tool of discovery and classification.
If you read his references , its still possible , and the research and theory that inspired Brown into this Magnum Opus clearly suggests it ,there is more than one reason for there still to be MORE than one planet on elliptical hundreds of AU orbits.

Eniac January 22, 2016 at 11:53

If there were more than one, wouldn’t that mean that neither had cleared its orbit and so neither would actually be a planet?

Ashley Baldwin January 22, 2016 at 20:04

They would be in totally different orbits a long way apart with little interaction . As to clearing their orbits to be a planet , Jupiter technically hasn’t done that with its Centaurs . The issue is that they would be large bodies though , very much Super Earth size. Long ways out though . I’ve a feeling we nay all have to wait until the big mirror, wide field dedicated LSST is operational before these things , if they exist , are imaged.

Izidoro et al 2015 is the arxiv paper ( the last of a sequence of planetary creation papers ) that Brown cites heavily in his discussion section and apart from being very readable offers a great description come theory of large outer solar system planet formation and dynamics . It’s also remarkably prescient as to what Bagytin’s equations show.

Andrew Palfreyman January 21, 2016 at 18:23

Can the enlightened readership here envision how such a body might assist in the deployment of a Maccone-style gravscope?

Ron S January 22, 2016 at 15:00

I can’t think of any way it helps. That it’s approximately the required distance helps not at all with getting there or with being able to view anywhere other than where it’s currently opposite the sun from.

I suppose you could use it as a slingshot to achieve a tangential trajectory design to cross many desired observation positions. Although each will be extremely brief, and therefore of small utility.

Eniac January 26, 2016 at 17:57

Right. The first “Maccone Probe” would have no means to match orbits with anything. It would simply keep flying away from the sun on a hyperbolic path. Not unlike the Voyagers, only faster and with small corrections to target interesting objects in an extremely small field of view. A flyby is the best you could get of planet 9, and you’d have to weigh that against the loss of targeting flexibility for the gravity lens mission. It’s probably best to launch two separate missions, each perfectly suited for their own task.

P January 21, 2016 at 20:53

1) The Australian MSM at least has (typically) dealt with this rather badly – you would think that the darn thing had already been discovered rather than just theorised/modelled/predicted

2) If this thing IS just one thing, and if it was dynamically ejected early enough in the solar system’s history, maybe it wouldn’t have a massive hydrogen envelope – maybe it would just be a ‘failed planetary core’. It could be quite dense, not that large, and very dark

3) If it’s lurking anywhere near the Milky Way then is quite likely WISE with its poor PSF and short mission duration might have missed it (confusion with other objects in a crowded field)

Still – super exciting time to be alive…



J. Jason Wentworth January 21, 2016 at 21:24

If the new ninth planet is really there (I’m cautiously optimistic), I have thought of a fast propulsion system that could get a mission there quickly, and which we could probably build today. It could use already well-proven technologies, as described below:

In the 1964 World’s Fair, General Electric had a nuclear fusion demonstration device (a cubical unit with a translucent dome on top) which created pulsed fusion micro-blasts with deuterium (it may also have used tritium, or perhaps lithium), allowing visitors to “see the flash and hear the thunder of actual nuclear fusion.” Also, TIME Magazine’s science editor Jonathan Leonard wrote, in his 1953 book (updated in 1957 after Sputnik) “Flight Into Space,” that existing magnetrons could produce pulses 1,000 times as strong as the steady current they consumed. In addition, in the 1964 TIME-LIFE book “Man and Space” (revised in 1968), Arthur C. Clarke covered internal-expansion nuclear pulse fusion rockets, which would provide higher performance than gaseous-core fission rockets (which Arthur C. Clarke also covered in his 1968 book “The Promise of Space”–they are very high-performance fission rockets). Now, all of these technologies (which are even more advanced today) could be utilized to create a different type of nuclear rocket engine:

This engine could be called a “fission-boosted fusion rocket.” A fusion rocket need not achieve energy break-even (the goal of fusion reactor developers, where the energy released by the fusion reaction equals–and preferably exceeds–the input energy) in order to produce useful thrust. Such an engine could use the 1964 General Electric fusion demonstrator’s technology (it may have been a “Stellarator”-type electromagnetic fusion unit), with its electrical power supplied by a fission reactor (for use–or for accelerating out toward the outer planets–near the Sun, a solar cell array or a solar boiler with a turbine could generate the needed electricity). Using a magnetron (which the 1964 GE fusion demonstrator may have used to “fire” its pulsed fusion charges), the engine could produce pulses of fusion inside a nozzle-equipped spherical or cylindrical chamber. Plus:

Like a gaseous-core fission rocket (which uses liquid hydrogen, methane, or water, injected as a working fluid to produce thrust), the “fission-boosted fusion rocket” could also use such working fluids as additional reaction mass. The working fluid could be injected into the chamber in pulses, just before each fusion charge was injected and fired (the working fluid could, if necessary, be injected “downstream” from the fusion charge firing point). Such an engine would provide high thrust (for an in-space propulsion system), high specific impulse, and a much higher rate of acceleration than any electrical propulsion system. In addition to providing fast travel between the inner planets, spaceships powered by fission-boosted fusion rockets could reach the outer planets in periods of time that wouldn’t be unreasonable for manned missions. If we ever hope to reach the ninth planet (if it exists), such a propulsion system will be a must. I hope the planet does exist, because it would spur the development of such propulsion systems.

Eniac January 22, 2016 at 11:57

I fail to see what the use of fusion would be if you have to input more energy than comes out. For propulsion, or otherwise.

Volucris January 22, 2016 at 12:51

Define Q as (energy produced by fusion)/(energy used to warm/compress/hold a fusion pulse). If Q is low, say something like .1, it would probably be more profitable to to put the energy straight to ion engines and drop the fusion stage, since maximum gain in power would only be 10% anyway, and in practice probably a net loss with all the added complexity. Now suppose Q is high, say 5. Now we can build a fusion reactor anyway, and we might as well drop the fission as unnecessary complexity.
If at some point it turns out easy enough to achieve high Q, but hard to capture that fusion energy as electricity, I can see application for something like this. Or if low Q is achievable, but high Q isn’t, then maybe it might make sense, but the gains compared to pure fission would be moderate.

Robert January 22, 2016 at 17:06

Fusion may come but will probably be unnecessary by the time it arrives. I think the future will be Hydrino powered which will also have rather huge implications for space.

Eniac January 26, 2016 at 18:02

Surely, you’re joking?

Robert January 28, 2016 at 13:15

I never joke about hydrino’s. They are real.

Alex Tolley January 28, 2016 at 13:45
Ron S January 28, 2016 at 15:15

I’d heard about the “water power” scam but not about the “hydrino”. Thanks for the article reference, Alex. There is a surprising variety of scams of this sort that persist.

Got anything up your sleeve, Robert?

Alex Tolley January 28, 2016 at 16:26

Whenever I read about such things, i try to apply a little critical thinking, my own knowledge of nature and a little math.

Here is Robert from down stream: “I have been following the hydrino discovery for over 15 years and I can say that it’s real and it’s two orders of magnitude more energetic than burning hydrogen.

The first thing that hits me is that this “discovery” is not new, and the claims are huge. If that were the case, scientists would be all over it, much like they were with cold fusion. But there is literally nothing. Almost everything on the web is press releases from BlackLight Power.

Secondly, if this was a chemical reaction, and not nuclear, we would be looking at bond strengths. But the claims are for 2 orders of magnitude more energy release. Not possible. The reference seems to have uncovered what is going on here – some deft bait and switch with the meaning and units used.

As Mulder reprises the new X-Files with “wanting to believe”, I identify with the much more skeptical Scully.

Robert January 28, 2016 at 21:31

Alex, if you wish to believe that if a concept is not immediately embraced it must be flawed, please go ahead. The history of science shows another story.

The claims are huge. Does that make it wrong too? Not sure why you insist I can’t express the hydrino reaction in terms of energetics. The transition of H to H(1/4) yields 204 eV. That’s just a fact of nature.

Feel free to believe Mills has been playing with units just to fool people for the last twenty years if you wish as the reference writer assumes. The fact of nature is that one liter of water contains 2.78 GJ of energy if released in the typical reaction of H to H(1/4). Of course, actual power is dependent on details such as yield and rate of flow of reactants.

I am confident that the world will eventually catch up with these ideas.

Alex Tolley January 28, 2016 at 22:23

Robert, I don’t want to argue with you. I will leave a reference from ESA suggesting that hydrinos are inconsistent with quantum mechanics. This is above my pay grade to discuss further.

Robert January 28, 2016 at 20:56

I have a physics and engineering education and I have been following the work for over 15 years and you, by your own admission, never heard about it. So, how much due diligence have you given it before pronouncing it a ‘scam’? Five minutes? Or you just bought into the link Alex sent without investigating?

You may be interested to know Brilliant Light has raised around 100 million in capital and has a lot of pretty sophisticated people, and institutions backing it.

And for your information, my name is Robert and I am not ‘promoting scams’.

Robert January 29, 2016 at 13:54

If you haven’t read Mills’ papers yourself you are the one operating on faith. You can examine the data for yourself, rather than just accepting the critiques on the web, which all have been responded to by Mills. It’s all available in the public domain.

Robert January 29, 2016 at 14:05


I don’t want to argue either but you should know that you are only seeing the critics side and you need to understand that Rathke’s critique for example, was full of errors which Mills pointed out in his rebuttal.

But I will completely agree with you on one point. Hydrino’s are inconsistent with Quantum Mechanics due to the fact that nature itself is inconsistent with Quantum Mechanics. Even Quantum Mechanics is inconsistent with Quantum Mechanics.

J. Jason Wentworth January 23, 2016 at 10:27

A gaseous-core fission propulsion system would be preferable, but has four big problems:

[1] It would have a radioactive exhaust plume (so would a fusion rocket [unless it “burned” deuterium and helium-3], but even the “dirtiest” fusion reaction combination’s exhaust would be far less radioactive than a fission rocket’s exhaust);

[2] It would be politically very difficult to achieve, largely because of problem [1] (even flying a closed, non-propulsive fission reactor, which a fission-boosted fusion rocket would use, would be hard enough to get approved);

[3] We don’t know if a gaseous-core fission rocket is feasible (Arthur C. Clarke aptly described the engineering problems involved in developing them as “slightly fantastic”). The problem is not whether such an engine would work, but could the extremely hot, volatized fission fuel (uranium or plutonium) be retained in the engine (via electromagnetic and/or electrostatic means, probably) while the working fluid could escape through the engine’s nozzle? If not, the reactor fuel would soon escape along with the working fluid (which is the last thing wanted–the engine could only fire for a short time, and its exhaust would be extremely radioactive). Even if the fission fuel containment could be achieved, how could such a reactor be controlled? (Some kind of injected liquid moderator, or electrostatic or electromagnetic separation of part of the fission fuel might do it, but it wouldn’t be easy.) This leads directly to the fourth problem;

[4] Because of these difficulties, ground testing of gaseous-core fission rockets would be politically very difficult to achieve (even testing updated NERVA-type *solid-core* fission rockets would be very difficult to do today at Jackass Flats, Nevada, given the widespread and vehement fear of all things nuclear in society today). [Near where I live in Fairbanks, Alaska, a long-operating RTG-powered automated weather station had its RTG replaced with a diesel generator when the locals discovered it was there, because “nuclear power is bad.”] It’s also possible that a gaseous-core fission rocket might function properly only in a vacuum; if so, getting approval to test-fly one in space would probably be only slightly less difficult than resuming testing of an Orion-type (nuclear bomb-propelled) spaceship. Also:

Yes, electrical propulsion systems could send a probe or ship out to the ninth planet, if it exists. But for reaching a world twenty times as distant as Neptune, the very low acceleration of electric thrusters would result in trip times far too long for manned missions, and even for an unmanned probe, time would be a serious adversary. This, in turn, would make approval of such a mission unlikely, because Congress wouldn’t fund a probe that [1] might not last long enough to reach the planet, and [2] even if it did, might require two or more generations (including of human flight controllers and yearly budget allocations). Plus:

This great cost in time and money would also make a minimal, flyby mission appear ridiculous, and an orbiter–which would require even more propulsive capability–would be correspondingly more expensive. The only viable alternative might be to utilize electrical propulsion with multiple gravity assists (say, out to Saturn, with a rebound inward toward Jupiter, and a final, very large assist from the Sun, perhaps also involving a chemical rocket burn at perihelion). But the proper planetary alignments needed for such a mission might require decades of waiting, and slowing the probe down from such a high velocity to orbit the ninth planet would still be a significant problem. If we want to send probes and crewed spaceships out to such distances in reasonable periods of time and at launch times convenient to us, we must get serious about developing either some kind of high-performance nuclear propulsion system (fission or fusion), or some type of beamed-pushed sail (laser or maser).

Mike Fidler January 25, 2016 at 2:33

How long would it take an EmDrive (RF resonant cavity thruster) to reach the distance to Planet 9? Power it with LENR – Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, (or sometimes Lattice Enabled Nanoscale Reactions) and you should have plenty of power left to put it in orbit, for a penetrating radar, and a couple of surface probes-rovers. Let’s get back to the FUTURE!!!

Robert January 25, 2016 at 13:38

Probably somewhere around two years at current extrapolated designs with nuclear power and 25 milli-gee range acceleration. But that beats decades with our current technology.

Mike Fidler January 25, 2016 at 20:11

Hi Robert’
Very good wiki page on EmDrive:
The page on transit time for a manned ship:
Just wondering how fast a space probe could be sent, since the cargo load would be much lighter and with LENR the power supply would also be much lighter – could be a real hot rod!
Looks like there may be a X-Prize to further interest in EM Drive research!
A related experiment:
The original report on drive acceleration through
action–reaction symmetry breaking:

Robert January 26, 2016 at 14:42

Thanks for the links! For unmanned you can probably scale the power and up the acceleration by quite a bit. Maybe only months to get there for a probe.

Robert February 3, 2016 at 15:12

BTW, the Wiki page does bring up the apparent energy discrepancy between total energy input into the mission
vs. the final kinetic energy.

I think a common mistake is to assume that if one can get a constant force and thus a constant acceleration, this is a static situation forever. It’s not. Assuming all the input power is converted to the ship kinetic energy, one gets a constant acceleration up to the point where the power requirement
which is Mass * Velocity * Acceleration exceeds the power input of the energy source, beamed or onboard. At that point the ship continues to accelerate but at a declining rate asymptotically approaching zero.

This does not mean the EM drive doesn’t work but the 2MW mission needs more like 2GW.

I think Shawyer and the NASA people make this mistake.

Do the beamed propulsion folks also assume a constant acceleration for the whole mission regardless of velocity?

Giulio Prisco January 26, 2016 at 1:59

If it works…

Alex Tolley January 25, 2016 at 15:09

But EmDrives are speculative at best, nonsense at worst. Certainly we have no good data on EmDrive performance.

Even an advanced ion drive would take 50 years just to accelerate to a fast flyby at ~400 km/s.
In “Solar Sails” by Vulpetti et al the end of ch17 speculates on an advanced sail that could achieve 1030 km/s (0.0034c), cruising at 214 AU/yr. This is without beaming. Beaming should improve that performance.

This suggests to me that sailed craft are going to be the best hope of reaching such distances. This seems obvious given that sails are still one of the favored methods for smaller ships reaching the stars.

While fast sails are exotic, they seem less exotic that any other propulsion system to reach such distance, and with beams they could even slow down to orbit the target. A 1000 AU is 6 light days from Earth, so I would expect the craft to be autonomous and just stream data to us, with very rare communication to the craft from Earth.

Any such spacecraft would have very impressive technology compared to what we can field today.

Robert January 27, 2016 at 12:45

Many people, including people in the aerospace industry, are quietly working on EM drive devices so we should a lot before too long, certainly far sooner than exotic sail devices.

I am also aware of an emerging exotic chemical technology that has the potential for a fuel two orders of magnitude more powerful than a typical liquid hydrogen/LOX reaction for about the same mass.

What could we do with such a powerful fuel?

Robert January 27, 2016 at 12:46

I meant we should know a lot…

Daniel Högberg January 21, 2016 at 22:26

Some comments refer to planet 9 as a “Super Earth”.. How likely is that? Why not a captured “dark wanderer”? I don’t feel like a Super Earth really fits in this solar system..
I believe it will be Neptune-like but colder.

Dave Moore January 22, 2016 at 17:31

I agree. Some of the Nice models of early solar system evolution postulate two gas giants and three ice giants, one of which gets ejected during the process when Saturn perturbs Neptune enough to eject it into a new orbit outside Uranus’s. This would be the missing ice giant.

George King January 21, 2016 at 23:57

Mentioned this in the comments to the first Planet Nine article, but thought I’d cross-reference it over to this discussion and expand upon it a bit.

Graphene solar sails have the potential to get a probe out to 600 AU in about 3 years, at a brisk 1400 km/s. If we’re talking instead of the putative planet being at an aphelion around 2000 AU, then maybe after about a decade in mission time.

See Matloff, G.L., “Graphene, the Ultimate Interstellar Solar Sail Material?” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 65, p. 378-381

See also Vulpetti, G., Fast Solar Sailing: Astrodynamics of Special Sailcraft Trajectories (Springer, 2013)

A lot of materials research and development would be required in applying graphene to such a use. But no other special technology – such as for example beamed propulsion – would be needed to span such a distance in such a relatively short time.

In contrast, an Alpha Centauri mission instead would require beamed propulsion of a light sail for a within-lifetime mission – with all the substantial engineering challenges that successful beamed propulsion for such a mission would entail. But this lesser distance could be crossed in a reasonable time with just the sail and sunlight.

The probe of course also could test Claudio Maccone’s solar focal gravitational lensing along the way, from 550 AU on out.

Would be a flyby at the destination, but New Horizons shows that those can be rich in science, albeit at a slower speed than 1400 km/s.

May as well snag an additional gravitational assist during the flyby on the probe’s way to thereafter exploring the Oort cloud, which I believe starts more or less at the roughly 2000 AU aphelion suggested above.

Voyager 1 is 133.85 AU from the Sun today, already in interstellar space at that distance.

Strange to think of an interplanetary mission in interstellar space.

Eniac January 22, 2016 at 12:02

You’d have to fly awfully close to the sun to get 1400 km/s. As I understand, Matloff’s is a highly theoretical, best case, “in principle” type estimate. More realistic estimates about achievable sundiver velocities I remember seeing ranged more around 100 km/s.

George King January 22, 2016 at 21:02

Yep, there’s always going to be a devil, maybe even a few, in the details for all of these potentially disruptive propulsion technologies, especially early on.

That said, uncited more skeptical estimates of achievable velocities also still are based on paper reasoning rather than practical testing at this point. With every possible technological development, sometimes the perhaps more realistic skeptics are correct in their assessment. Sometimes not.

I’d otherwise have to defer to someone more knowledgeable, like Professor Matloff himself, as to how much of a potential gulf there may be between an arguable initial practical reality of 100 km/s and the postulated 1400 km/s.

However, even if we shot for 1400 km/s and hit “only” a 100 km/s cruise speed in practice at least initially, we’d still be cruising at close to six times faster than anything else that we have out there currently. (set find for “fastest”)

Without necessarily all that complicated of a rig in its final form.

The first substantial challenge likely will be configuring the graphene material in a manner where it can be unfurled reliably in space within a sundiver mission profile.

The budget realities are such that it’s difficult for any potentially cutting edge, but still largely untested, technology to work its way up in the queue for publicly funded missions.

The hope remains that there will be some distant target that excites the public imagination – whether confirmed planets in the Alpha Centauri system and/or a heretofore undiscovered planet in our own – that provides an impetus for a public space agency to more actively investigate potential deep space propulsion technologies that are further down the queue vis-à-vis their current confirmed Technology Readiness Level.

xcalibur January 22, 2016 at 5:10

The evidence for this seems very consistent.

Is there any word on what sort of planet this is? To my understanding, this could be anything from a mini-neptune to a super-earth. If it is a super-earth, is it possible for a molten core (w/ magnetic dynamo) and a thick atmosphere to create warm conditions suitable for life? Or would it have to be cryogenically cold?

Also, reply threads are a fine addition.

Bill B. January 24, 2016 at 10:19

A cold Venus with Earth like conditions on the surface. Fun idea.

Michael January 26, 2016 at 14:27

If there where Earth like temperatures on a Venus type world a strange liquid CO2 atmosphere would form, a very strange concept indeed.

Michael Spencer January 22, 2016 at 7:47

Bravo, Paul on the upgrade! Commenters here very often post above my pay grade but are always interesting and instructive. Replies will expand the reach of this excellent site by enabling extended conversation.

ljk January 22, 2016 at 10:11
Robert January 22, 2016 at 15:07

How much of a donation would it take to get those in ‘charge’ to declare Pluto a planet again?

Mark Zambelli January 22, 2016 at 16:44


ljk January 22, 2016 at 17:31

Whoever gets to settle and mine the Pluto system first will have that option.

Mike Fidler January 22, 2016 at 21:49

What if the orbit of planet 9 is what caused the geat bombardment 3.5 billion years ago. Maybe Jupiter kicked it into a longer period orbit, out of a close approaches to the inner solar system. My reasoning is that Earth has a preccesion that last 26,000 years and four of the planets have an axil tilt running from 24 degrees with Earth to almost 30 degrees at Neptune. Could the other three ecliptic poles be similar to earth’s position in the sky and could that of been caused by planet 9 when it was still effecting the solar system?

Mike Fidler January 24, 2016 at 6:27

Looking at what may have happened from the viewpoint of a fossil record left from the effects of a super earth in the solar system came up with some unusual coincidences.
1.Original position of Planet 9 is between Mars and Jupiter – Jupiter protrudes orbit over time and Planet 9 is heated from many close encounters with Jupiter.
2. Satellites of Planet 9 collide with Jupiter on its southern equatorial belt leaving permanent Great Red Spot.
3. During the close encounter with Jupiter Planet 9 is disrupted leaving behind a huge amount of sulfur from interior eruptions, creating Io and in the process the water from Planet 9 surface creates Europa. Both have higher densities that rest of satellites.
To be continued:

Scott Gordon January 24, 2016 at 19:31

Hi Mike

The Great Red Spot is a storm feature not the site of an impact. It’s just swirling gases (nothing which an impact leaves a permanent mark on – see eg. the impact of fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 which left big dark patches in the atmosphere but they disappeared within days).

A planet as large as ‘Planet 9′ would not be affected by any reasonable close encounter. Its material is far too strongly bound to itself by gravity. We’re likely talking about repeated ‘tugging’ on its orbit at a distance (by Jupiter, Saturn etc.) if it has been ejected from the inner Solar System.

Mike Fidler January 25, 2016 at 2:19

Hi Scott

That is the normal viewpoint on what the Great Red Spot is, but has anyone modeled what a very large impactor would due. What we see on rocky and the icy moons in the solar system are many huge impacts, with some not even showing a crater because one whole hemisphere was blasted away. Jupiter is going to draw a much higher percentage of large impacts because of its mass and a large object should leave a large depression (crater) in the lower ice and core that would also cause a natural vorticity in the above thick atmosphere.

Take a look at how our moon was supposedly made from the impact of Mars and Earth in the early history of the solar system. We are also talking about two large planets close to each other, so what would be the long term effect be on Planet 9’s orbit.

Into the 1900s, many scientists believed that as Earth cooled after its formation, the planet’s surface contracted and wrinkled like the skin of an apple, subjected to the sun and drying out over time. The contraction theory, independently proposed by two prominent scientists in the late 1800s and early 1900s, implied that mountain ranges like the Himalayas were forced up by the wrinkling process. This theory assumed that all of the features on Earth had formed during one cooling event and that the planet was relatively static, changing little as the cooling (and wrinkling) slowed to a halt over millions of years.Into the 1900s, many scientists believed that as Earth cooled after its formation, the planet’s surface contracted and wrinkled like the skin of an apple, subjected to the sun and drying out over time. The contraction theory, independently proposed by two prominent scientists in the late 1800s and early 1900s, implied that mountain ranges like the Himalayas were forced up by the wrinkling process. This theory assumed that all of the features on Earth had formed during one cooling event and that the planet was relatively static, changing little as the cooling (and wrinkling) slowed to a halt over millions of years. Before the 1920s, the crust below the seas was thought to be flat and featureless.

Yes, I was able to observe Jupiter when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted, with my 8″ telescope near Lava Lake in the high cascades near the Three Sister volcanoes of Oregon. I remember well the inky black that appeared later. The change that took place in the concept of how often these types of impacts occur is one of the main reasons for funding the asteroid research and studies. I think we are just beginning to understand how dynamic our solar system really is. I really hope to live long enough to see what Planet 9 looks like and hope that even with a thick atmosphere we can see some surface features or use penetrating radar.

Ron S January 23, 2016 at 0:27

Regarding the comment reply feature, a negative point to consider. Previously it was fairly easy to find new comments (including replies) since all were chronologically ordered. Now it is necessary to scan everything, which is tedious for long threads such as this one.

In brief, it’s easier to write a reply but more difficult to find and read them.

Paul Gilster January 23, 2016 at 9:33

I see your point, and didn’t see that problem coming. I’d like to get other views on this. What Ron is describing seems like a major limitation of this format.

Giulio Prisco January 23, 2016 at 11:38

I like this subthreaded view, it makes subthreads easier to follow.

Alex Tolley January 23, 2016 at 13:01

I prefer the sub threads too. Easier to follow and add to a specific conversation. As for the latest additions, I get those on my email, so I can see quickly who has added comments since the last time.

Mark Zambelli January 27, 2016 at 6:52

I like the idea of subthreads but do agree with Ron, somwhat. Perhaps it’s early days and needs a bit of getting used to?

Alex Tolley January 28, 2016 at 16:31

I’m actually having 2nd thoughts. Reading sub threads is a lot easier. However locating a particular thread seems harder for some reason. I’m using “find” a lot more to locate particular phrases. I also now rely on the emails of threads I have responded to to determine whats new. This doesn’t work for posts that I haven’t “followed” with a comment.

Michael January 23, 2016 at 4:11

It should be a little easier to point in the right direction by looking at each objects orbit in the turn. The orbit of the object would only have been adjusted when the more massive object was in certain series of positions. By then looking at each against the other orbits it would narrow down the location more, if we find even more objects it gets narrower still. These orbit look to be very stable over long lifetimes so statistically the chance of an object causing the orbits is greater, hopefully we find more.

Giulio Prisco January 23, 2016 at 5:50

At 3 light days – 0.01 light years from Earth – a colony on Planet Nine could be achievable in this century, and at the same time it would be a first outpost in interstellar space. I can’t wait to read science fiction novels about that.

Even more, I can’t wait to see the first proposals and studies for robotic and then manned missions to Planet Nine. Perhaps we will see the beginnings of that in our lifetime. If Planet Nine is confirmed by direct observation, perhaps the 100YSS project should be re-purposed.

Michael January 23, 2016 at 12:30

@Paul Gilster January 23, 2016 at 9:33

‘I see your point, and didn’t see that problem coming. I’d like to get other views on this. What Ron is describing seems like a major limitation of this format.’

I see the advantage as well, still is it possible to have the REPLY name of the poster another colour say red, this will catch the eye better. Another possibility is to have the comments number change to red when a new comment is added, I think this would be controlled by a cookie.

Ulrich Steffen January 23, 2016 at 12:41

In my opinion, it would be better if the comments would be chronologically ordered. I like the system used by Cloudy Nights; see for example here:

Michael January 23, 2016 at 14:26

Here is an interesting article on comets (Oort cloud), a long read but interesting.

Interestingly there is a drop in the number of comets around 8000 Au mark from the sun, they put it down to the comets been captured into smaller orbits with interactions with the planets. We must remember that an object on a very eccentric orbit would tend to spend more time out there and then race inwards, perhaps having less time to disrupt the inner comet profile (page 156), who knows?

I must be honest that the amount of material out there is staggering! and even more early on in the solar systems history.

Michael January 23, 2016 at 16:25

Interestingly there is an increase in the number of comet to the ecliptic at around 140 degrees (page 158 Fig 3) which is significant, much higher than statistically normal, starting to look compelling!

ILTIS January 24, 2016 at 13:30

Could this planet X explain the outer edge of the Kuiper disk at 50 AU?
Could some of the strange observations from ALMA, notably the one close to alpha centauri be related to this planet?

Melissa January 24, 2016 at 15:31

What color and albedo could this ninth planet have? The albedo of the planet would affect how bright it would appear in a telescope. The combination of the planet’s distance and albedo would probably be why it hasn’t already been discovered and confirmed as a planet just yet.

ljk January 26, 2016 at 10:45

Planet X-9 (assuming it is real) is practically our next door neighbor compared to how distant this exoworld’s orbit is….

ljk January 26, 2016 at 10:48

If Planet X-9 does exist, does it mean we are not that special?

Do we need just one distant large world to make humanity realize just how minor our species and our planet are in the literal grand scheme of things?

ljk January 27, 2016 at 15:21

Is Planet X-9 a threat to life on Earth?

Shades of ol’ Nemesis.

Alex Tolley January 27, 2016 at 15:42

If the EmDrive works at all, which I doubt, it delivers a thrust in the noise level. Eagle Labs may be working on validating the device, but that doesn’t mean that it works. They might just show it doesn’t and explain any effect with known physics. This is so like the Pioneer 10 anomaly, a tiny effect that was explained by known physics, rather than requiring anything new.

I am also aware of an emerging exotic chemical technology that has the potential for a fuel two orders of magnitude more powerful than a typical liquid hydrogen/LOX reaction for about the same mass.

Do you want to enlighten us, because AFAIK, chemical bond energies cannot offer 2 orders of magnitude more energy. You can beat H2/O2 with fluorine, but you certainly don’t want such materials and reactions anywhere near a biosphere or living crew.

Robert January 28, 2016 at 14:37

Why do you claim an EM drive signal must be in the noise? Several groups reported significant thrust levels. Further, you should, not equate small levels by some research groups with potentially higher engineered levels once the technology is better understood.

As far as the second point, I was referring to the hydrino reaction. I have been following the hydrino discovery for over 15 years and I can say that it’s real and it’s two orders of magnitude more energetic than burning hydrogen. It can be developed into a compact fuel for space applications or used directly with water. It can also provide copious amounts of safe power in the outer solar system where the sun is very weak.

Alex Tolley January 28, 2016 at 16:41

Why do you claim an EM drive signal must be in the noise? Several groups reported significant thrust levels


I don’t know what you mean by “significant”, but all results have been extremely small thrusts. I say noise level, because the newer experiments are all trying to run tests eliminating any possible effects, e.g. thermal radiation. The thrust is so small it is proving hard to distinguish it from other tiny effects. What you want from a drive experiment is a clear thrust signal to demonstrate an effect. This has not been done so far, AFAIK. The Chinese tests were poorly done, and even they didn’t get anything that was apparently worth following up (unless it suddenly became classified). The EmDrive was first brought to public attention a decade ago, and yet it is still struggling to show any clear effect.

Usually any unexpected device or phenomenon can be made to work convincingly in a decade. An example was the idea of using wind power to drive a vehicle faster than the wind speed, i.e.e downwind faster than the wind. This seemed impossible, but was demonstrated convincingly, confounding the skeptics. That is all the EmDrive or similar “drives” have to do, but they never seem to. The triumph of hope over reason.

Ron S January 28, 2016 at 17:39

The question I want answered is why “Robert” is promoting scams here in CD? Other than a small (hopefully very small!) number of credulous readers this is not the best place to find marks.

Robert January 28, 2016 at 21:52

Ron, rather than listen to the chorus of critics who don’t know or care, I’ve read the papers and book and seen the data. It makes sense and I believe it. I believe someday you will too. Maybe when you see it in Nature.

Ron S January 28, 2016 at 23:06

Then rather than assert your “faith” and making bald assertions you ought to counter the hard science-based critique (found there and elsewhere) with something substantive. Otherwise you’re wasting your time here.

Mike Fidler January 29, 2016 at 2:35

I do not think Robert is promoting scams and a large community of scientist and NASA have been researching these ideas. Talk about SCAMS, The OIL cartel and NUCLEAR monopoly have been scaming the hell out of us for over 50 years. The HOT fusion establishment want nothing to do with LENR, only huge amounts of money for a huge SCAM! The Aerospace conglomerate want to keep building throw away rockets to milk the taxpayer for all its worth! Read the book: Frontiers of Space by Philip Bono and Kenneth Gatland, we could of been building single stage to orbit back in the early 70’s with return of the complete vehicle, ready to relaunch. The Hyperion Rocket Sled looks very similar to the Russian N1 monster and it seems that as soon as they kept blowing up the aerospace giants tucked all those ideas away! Since the russians gave up no reason to worry about them any more. Where is the aerospike engine?

Ron S January 29, 2016 at 11:09

Your attempt at diverting attention from the non-existence of hydrino/water power and EM drives doesn’t work. More vacuous claims. I’ve looked at both and seen nothing but bloviated nonsense.

Show me something real. You have a few days to consider your reply while I’m off the grid for a few days of R & R.

Mike Fidler January 29, 2016 at 20:37

Well, sorry had not looked into hydrino issue in awhile, it does look like a scam. My main interest is LENR and EmDrive is specifically because they deal with resonant phenomenon . LENR has been research since 1989 and evidence of earlier findings clear back to the 1930’s. Metal lattice and condensed matter physics has a rich history of finding unusual quantum resonances that need a better understanding. One of the changes that is making these concepts more interesting is that citizen scientist are taking an active role in duplicating both LENR and the EmDrive’s. With the internet, real time experiments are being performed and results are being used to improve the performance. Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. The big issue is how these can improve life for mankind and let us reach for other worlds.

Robert February 2, 2016 at 14:43

I am curious as to what exactly makes it “look like a scam” after Ron S’s rebuke?

Rob Henry January 30, 2016 at 3:24

I love a challenge Alex, and your “AFAIK, chemical bond energies cannot offer 2 orders of magnitude more energy” is certainly one.
Using conventional chemistry, atomic hydrogen is the only free radical that can’t combine with itself in a two atom collision (you need a 3H simultaneous collision so it can radiate off the extra energy). Thus tenuous atomic H could be held within some strange material, and would react with 20 times the power per weight as H2/O2. I am not sure the same is possible with H+/e-, but if it were, it would get us 120 times the power.

Alex Tolley January 31, 2016 at 11:51

H+/e- is a hydrogen ion adding an electron. Isn’t this in the same ballpark as the energy needed to electrolyze water 237.13 kJ/mole?
If we dump the O2 mass, we might get an order of magnitude better performance per mass. You can create a hydrogen plasma, separate out the electrons from the protons and store them in magnetic bottles, but the energy to do this and keep them at comparable density to liquid hydrogen is going to negate all that effort. Isn’t this one of the main problems of nuclear fusion?
Burning methane and oxygen gives a net energy of 802 kJ/mole
Hydrogen offer the most energy per gram, as we would expect as this is the preferred fuel for high performance rockets.
So I think the problem with the idea of H+/e- energy for propulsion is that there isn’t a way to store H+ in an effective way (even if the electron source is generated on the fly).

However, it does seem to me that if protons rather than neutral hydrogen are abundant in the solar wind (and interstellar medium), this might offer another means of propulsion rather than using electric sails. However since the Bussard ram jet that released the energy of fusion creates a net drag according to calculations, I’m guessing that this certainly wouldn’t work for the lower chemical energy released. It needs some more thought and calculations.

Rob Henry February 2, 2016 at 7:31

I believe you understood me incorrectly. Atomic hydrogen can be stored without any possibility it will react 2H -> H2, unless given a catalytic surface. Its perfectly stable at all temperatures for millions of years – as long as it is not so concentrated as to make triple molecule collisions likely. The same should be true of H+/e- (in the same tank – it should be impossible for them to react without catalysis for the same reasons, I think), but I am guessing no tank surface can hold H+/e- without reacting to one or the other species. Actually, even if they merely stick to it it would enable the explosive recombination.
And no, 2H -> 2H+ + 2e- releases 3034 kJ/mol. That’s an order of magnitude more energy per hydrogen atom, yet with only a ninth the weight of water.

Rob Henry February 2, 2016 at 7:49

Oops, above I meant H2 -> 2H+ + 2e- not 2H -> 2H+ + 2e- .
Furthermore, I would guess that H+/e- gas (like H it should be a gas even at close to absolute zero) could be held at higher densities than H because H+/H+ , and e-/e- repulsion would inhibit the production of the dreaded H2+ and H- species. If I’m wrong, things could get very nasty.

Alex Tolley February 2, 2016 at 14:19

Can you add a reference for the energetics? I’m also not clear how you have a proton-electron mix as a gas – that normally only occurs at high temperatures. ,aybe I’m misunderstanding what you are talking about. If so, a reference to educate myself would be useful here too.

Rob Henry February 8, 2016 at 15:36

Sorry I missed your reply. I used Aylward and Findlay’s SI Chemical Data, which used to be of standard use in most universities. For some reason, I always have difficulty finding this sort of data online, and it seems you do too.

As for plasmas having to be hot, see here
I hypothesized p+/e- should be especially easy to cool below that transition and keep stable since p+ + e- -> H has no spare electrons that can jump to higher orbits and adsorb the energy of the collision (even close to absolute zero)

Rob Henry February 9, 2016 at 15:13

The 1517 kJ/mol standard energy of H+(gas) formation is also close to its H ionisation energy, and here that is
PLUS half the bond energy of hydrogen, which is given here
the 0.8% difference in calculated figures is due to entropy changes which I will not bother to calculate here.
Better get your Aylward and Findlay quick-smart.

here is more about cold plasma

Alex Tolley February 9, 2016 at 18:44

I’m not seeing what you are seeing. The H dissociation emergy is 1312 kJ/Mol. Double it for 2H -> 2624 kJ/Mol.

H-H bond energy is 436 kJ/Mol.

So the ionization energy is just 5-6x the chemical bond energy. Hardly 2 orders of magnitude difference.

Regarding plasmas. I also did some reading, and if I understand it correctly, cold plasmas have very low ionization (as one might expect). The reference you provided is the production of non-thermal plasmas. We need to produce them and store them for fuel. AFAICS, these plasmas will simple recombine to neutral hydrogen atoms and then molecules. To store plasmas, they must either be very hot, OR the protons and electrons must be far apart so that they cannot recombine. Either method is not suited to powering spacecraft IMO.

The most potent storable energy we currently has is nuclear, using fission to release the energy. At some point we might be able to use fusion, and then anti-matter.

However, for sheer energy, if we could harvest solar energy with very little collector mass, then that would be the way to go, at least in the solar system. Beaming that energy would be an alternative to collecting it directly by the spacecraft. One very low mass way to collect solar energy is to use thin film mirrors or Fresnel lenses. A flat Fresnel lens, spinning to keep its shape could be very large. Propulsion energy would be tapped by direct heating of a propellant, or conversion to electrical power first.

In an ideal case, the collector would be a mirror to collect solar energy or indirectly via beamed energy, to heat propellant and create electrical energy, and then flattened to work as a solar/beamed sail. I see an origami solution to achieve this dual propulsion approach.

Large scale solar thermal plants on Earth indicate the sort of possible power we might expect from such an approach.

Rob Henry February 9, 2016 at 22:24

Goodness Alex, your still not getting it. The measure we want is energy per kg NOT energy per mole. I expressed it that way because, in chemistry this is standard and expected you to make the conversion when deriving specific impulse etc.
H+ -> H2 is 1,500 MJ/kg,
but H2 + O2 -> H2O is only 12.7 MJ/kg !!

The second point is more subtle. I’m not saying I have a practical solution to the plasma storage problem, but I am STARTING that point by saying, that under some circumstances plasma can be stored cold, and well below its equilibrium. Now, bear with me on what follows. Those cold plasmas in the paper cannot have too high an ionization, even for theoretical reasons. To my knowledge, NONE of those theoretical reasons apply to a system containing PURE H+/e-. I fully admit, that the least trace of any other gas would cause it to explode.

Now, say I try this with Li3+/e-
Say I have a single atom of Li2+ in the mix, then we have a species that will rapidly absorb a second electron to give Li2+ + e- -> Li+. Say you knew nothing of chemistry. I imagine you would quickly point out to me that that second electron starts with too much kinetic energy to be captured in a two body system. So, how is energy conserved. Quantum mechanics allows this by moving its first electron to a higher shell. We can use the same process to capture a third, giving rise to a Li atom.
Now, in almost every collision of such an atom in its plasma we have
Li + Li3+ -> Li+ + Li2+
We now have two such ions, causing this to become an explosive autocatalytic process.
See how such a cascade is impossible with H+. Also note why I was worried about the formation of the highly disfavoured species H2+ and H-.

Alex Tolley February 10, 2016 at 12:46

Let’s put those figures in perspective. A primitive fission bomb produces about 60,000 MJ/Kg, which is why some people are still hot on Orion type spacecraft.

But yes, if you could store your plasma in some magic way, you could make a rocket that is more powerful than existing chemical rockets. I suspect storing anti-matter might be much easier.

Alex Tolley February 10, 2016 at 12:58

Just for comparison, could a solar powered engine theoretically compare with a H+ plasma energy.

The reference is H+/e -> 1500 MJ/kg

This is ~ 100x as potent as the LH2/LOX chemical engine. Let’s give it an Isp of 100x this engine, = 45000s.

Using a thin film mylar as used on a solar sail, the mass is 7g/m^2. The solar constant is ~ 1.5 KW/m^2, = 200 kW/kg

Assuming the propellant masses as much as the sail and the electrical conversion system is of insignificant mass for a large collector, call it 100 kW/kg.

Assuming a 45000s Isp, the energy collected by the sail to impart to the propellant= 4500 MJ/kg, comparable to the plasma fuel.

Now in practice this performance isn’t likely, but it seems as if the energy of a solar collector might just be a far more potent way to power a spacecraft, given a highly efficient energy conversion system and minimal radiator and support mass. Plenty of room to beat a chemical rocket.

Rob Henry February 10, 2016 at 15:42

No Alex, ISP has units of velocity (this is why its metric measure is m/s, and why the imperial use of s is so bad), and E = mv^2. Thus the specific impulse is ‘only’ ten times higher.

Next, you confuse solar collectors with reflectors. The work done by collectors, which have hundreds of thousands of times more mass per unit area, might indeed be close to 1.3kW per m^2 at one AU, but the WORK DONE by a mirror (even if it is perfect) is just the change of momentum by the light photons hitting it, which, is many orders of magnitude less.

Finally – YES, I think hydrogen plasma would be super hard to store, but not nearly as much as antimatter (unless you are working in units of difficulty per unit energy stored). The storage of either might be forever impractical for use in rocketry.

Alex Tolley February 10, 2016 at 19:39

Solar thermal is just as efficient as solar PV. If the generator, working fluids, etc are fairly small, then the lightweight mirror to concentrate the energy could ramp up the output per mass. Even a simple concentrator to increase the insolation of a PV cell will do that, making this approach workable for deep space missions.

IIRC, we’ve been down the units path before. Isp is generally measured in seconds. What I was simply trying to show is that for similar Isp (assuming that can be achieved, but is certainly in the ballpark of very efficient ion thrusters), a solar concentrator might well collect as much energy as the plasma fuel, with the advantage that the problem is more about understandable engineering. It may be hard to achieve, and finding low mass ways to radiate the excess heat may undo some of the advantage, but it seems more like a doable proposition to me. No magic required.

I think you have proven your original point on theoretical grounds, I just don’t think it is a workable technology. But I am willing to be surprised. We all want low cost, high performance spacecraft.

Rob Henry February 11, 2016 at 16:33

Isp seconds aren’t real seconds, they are g-seconds – that has the dimensional analysis of velocity. If you didn’t use this fake unit, you would not have made the above mistake.

Using solar thermal get’s complicated. It may work, but your above model was ill-defined. Were you thinking of using collected light to shine on plasma? If so surely the efficiency of light absorption by that plasma must be exceptionally low. If you were thinking of heating propellant in a container, that wouldn’t work, as it would have to be well over 10,000 K to match H+/e-

Alex Tolley February 11, 2016 at 22:02

I’m thinking of concentrating the sunlight and converting it to electricity. Then use that to run a high Isp engine, ion, VASIMR, etc.

We can already concentrate solar PV on Earth 1000x. So a 1 sq m PV panel of 20 kg with a 0.25 KW output, would add 7 kg (1000 m^2 at 7g/m^2) and have 1000x the output = 250KW for a mass of 27 kg. (I’m ignoring radiators to keep the PV temperature constant.

The Mars in 39 days VASIMR design requires about 2 MW, which is not going to happen with a nuclear reactor. But just maybe a 8000 m^2 solar concentrator with 8x 1 m^2 solar PV panels massing less than 250kg ( 1/4 MT) might just do the trick.

Recall that concentrating sunlight on Stirling engines was the approach for space power before PV appeared. The downsides are complexity and the requirement for pointing the collector, but these are hardly major problems. In practice adding structural support and radiators will add mass, but I don’t see any fundamental issues. We could start designing prototypes tomorrow for testing in vacuum chambers and later in space.
A cubesat sized proof of concept could be done for a Kickstarter project funding level.

Robert February 3, 2016 at 14:13

How can the H2 molecule release energy by breaking up and becoming ionized? That makes no sense. It takes a lot of energy
to do that.

Rob Henry February 3, 2016 at 14:57

Typo. Requires,

Michael January 29, 2016 at 15:55


Sorry, please read

Finished, Now if you mean metastable hydrogen and helium maybe, energy is energy, unless you change the atomic structure you have what you have.

Robert January 30, 2016 at 13:47


I’ve read this and other critiques along the same line. This one ignores the most basic issue. If Mills believes he has evidence for the hydrino state, the worst he can be accused of is over enthusiasm regarding how easy or how soon he commercialize the science into a useful technology. Yet this might be more understandable from a small team working in virtual isolation from the greater technical community. It’s far less understandable from the mainstream physics community which has been touting fusion as ‘just around the corner’ for over half a century- and they know better. Shall we call that a ‘scam’ too? In fact, if you look on virtually any university research page you will find grandiose statements as to where this or that research will take us. Perhaps viewed in this context most research is a ‘scam’ perpetrated on the taxpayers. Including promises of breakthroughs leading to interstellar travel.

I believe that Mills is so convinced he has detected and understood a new state of hydrogen, what he calls hydrino, that he has published around 100 technical papers in journals. The article focuses on patent applications suggesting they are all a ruse to bilk investors. Who writes about 100 patents just for money? Such a claim is worthy of legal action and I’m sure Mills’ lawyers would be interested. Considering the investors, Mills has raised around 100 million in capital over the years. These are not mom and pop investors but rather venture capital firms with sophisticated structures for vetting ideas. These people, are not fools. Also, consider what Mills has done with the capital. He’s invested it into labs and technical staff of 22 mostly scientists and engineers. We are to believe it’s all a grand ruse?

No, Mills believes completely in what he sells and his passion as well as the origin of the hydrino concept can be traced back to his college days. The former chair of the Chemistry dept. at Mills undergrad college is one of his biggest supporters. Explain that! His studies at MIT with Haus led to his electron model non-radiation condition.

The article lampoons one validation because it’s too close geographically to Mills’ lab. Really? Does that really matter? Yet there are several others including a scientist at my school, the University of Illinois who have looked at Mills’ work with interest. The idea that there is no support for hydrino’s is wrong.

Mills has suggested simple experiments that other scientists can replicate and it is their responsibility to do them.

Hydrino’s are certainly a controversial idea and no one should be blamed for not accepting them yet but for those who continue to irresponsibly claim Mills is a fraud or a scam, I challenge you to provide proof that Mills does NOT believe he has discovered what would amount to basically one of the greatest discoveries in modern science.

If he HAS discovered the hydrino and it’s real, then all other issues about how how effective he has been in communicating it or promising engineered devices too soon can be properly understood in context. It’s
still a very hard problem to engineer something fundamentally new into a society transformational energy source especially if one is working in isolation in a rather hostile environment where new ideas are lampooned rather than supported.

ljk February 5, 2016 at 14:20
ljk February 5, 2016 at 16:46

Are the KBOs’ wild orbits self-inflicted?

ljk February 10, 2016 at 9:49

AmericaSpace article on the subject asking if Planet X-9 is actually a second Kuiper Belt:

ljk February 24, 2016 at 10:27

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