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The missing planets

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Chapter 3

May 23 Morning, 2081.

Third conference: Steve Jason, astrophysicist, USA.

The Missing Planet Issue.



Steve already made many other speeches to much wider crowds, but this time it was somewhat impressive, like the first time he effectively addressed to an amphitheater. He had to wait that the noise of many discussions stops.

«Dear representatives of the United Nations, dear representative of world governments, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

«As brilliantly exposed by my colleague Amédée Owanba, we realized soon that there was some problem about civilizations missing into our observations. Civilizations should be numerous, but they are rare: we found only few remnants of ruined civilizations, and no actually living civilization.

«This awareness was due to the uncircumventable statistical analysis conducted by Amédée and his team, but it also resulted of another still more puzzling discovery.

«Two years ago, one of my students, Angela Dexter, had the idea that not only the civilizations disappeared, but also the planets themselves. Such an idea seemed so odd that I simply scolded this student, discouraging her to spent time on such weirdness. But she did against my will, and I must now recognize that she was right (murmurs in the hall), in such an extent that I refused to receive the Nobel prize for this, stating that only her deserved it (murmurs again).

«To explain how we can find that a planet misses in a solar system requires to recall how the planets are formed.

«Everybody knows that the birth of a star is accompanied with the formation of an accretion disk. The matter from the originating space cloud gathers on the star, but also in a disk surrounding the star, like the Saturn ring. It is easy to understand why it is a disk. If we imagine that only two particles orbit around a star, they can take any orbit they want. But if they meet, the shock makes them exchange energy: they get new orbits which are closer together than the firsts. And similarly if a great number of particles orbit together, and collide each other, they will soon take orbits which are the average of the starting orbits, and thus gather in a disk.

«This phenomenon is very common, and accretion disks form everywhere, around planets (Saturn rings) around stars, around quasars.

«The evolution of an accretion disk depends of its density and energy. If there are many particles with strong energy, the disk will be thick but with a low density. If particles lose their energy, the disk will become thin and dense. The overall mass of the disk also depends of the star. Ancient stars formed at the beginning of the galaxy from cosmic clouds with few rocky or metallic elements, and thus their disks had a low mass. Mean aged stars as our Sun have disks with mean mass. Stars forming today have much more matter to grind, and form massive disks. Depending of the history of the cloud which formed the star, the disk may not have the same thickness and mass at various distances of the star. It can be thick and heavy at some place, and lighter at some other.

«Such a disk is not stable. The first instability is that particles on close orbits have friction together. This process always results in the fact that in an accretion disk, the particles always spiral inwards, slowly or quickly. This happens around a quasar, where huge masses integrate the ring, and then quickly spirals inward, toward the black hole, where their fall is a catastrophe. But this also happens in a ring such as that of Saturn, where matter still spirals inward. Very slowly, as this ring is very cold and quiet. But it does, explaining that there is a very thin inner ring letting matter falling continuously on Saturn.

«In a planetary disk, when too much matter falls on it, the spiraling movement gets quicker and quicker, allowing more matter to fall on the star. This results in a kind of regulation: too thin, it becomes thicker, too thick it stops growing. Thus there is a limit in thickness, and accordingly in the mass of the future planets. Planets bigger that a certain limit get very improbable. But this also explains the appearance of big planets very close to the sun, as discovered since 1998, when spiraling matter approaches the star, but condenses into a planet before reaching it. Of course the orbit of this planet is stable, it cannot spiral inward.

«Another instability is that the heat of the star dissipates the disk. This can happen in 100 millions years or shorter, and if the planets are not yet condensed at that time, they can no longer do it. We effectively found stars with weak remnants of disks, but no planets.

«But the most interesting instability is that each particle in the disk reacts with the others, by their gravitation. When another particle is on an orbit which period is a multiple of a first, it always passes at the same moment near the first particle, and is thus tugged each time in the same way. Thus the second particle can see its orbit changed. But if the period of the second particle is an irrational number times that of the first, the disturbance is at random and does not have long term effects.

«As there are many particles in the disk, the action of each is canceled by all the others, and the disk is stable. But this stability is like putting a pencil on its end: a slight move can disrupt it.

«And there are many such slight causes in an interstellar cloud, which is a chaotic object. Sooner or later, somewhere in the cloud, some thicker lump appears, and begins to tug other parts of the ring which have a rational ratio, while letting in peace those with an irrational ratio. Once triggered, this process quickly accelerates itself and leads to a new organization: concentric rings, each with a diameter which is an irrational fraction of the previous one. Each ring is a future planet.

«This view explains why planets have concentric circular orbits: these orbits were created even before the planets, into the accretion disk. But it also explains why these orbits have diameters which are a series of a constant ratio, usually square root of two. This is known as the Titus Bode law, and most planetary systems obey the Titus Bode law. But this law is not absolute, and we often find planets leisurely obeying it, and even some whole systems where it does not appear. This system can also explain that simple rational numbers could govern planet orbits, as it is the case with Mercury, Venus and Earth: these ratios appeared as soon as the stage of the accretion disk.

«Sometimes the accretion rings have very thick parts, where a giant planet forms quickly. It is this giant planet which will then rule the Titus Bode pattern of the other planets. This happened with Jupiter, in our system. Such giant planets can also literally suck the neighboring orbits, as it happened with our Jupiter, which weakened Mars and forbidden a true planet to form between Mars and Jupiter.

«Sometimes also, some parts of the disk are too weak. In this case the corresponding planet cannot form, but it appears some small asteroids. This happened often in ancient stars with few stony elements: such stars are sometimes surrounded only with asteroids belts. This happened also with our missing planet between Mars and Jupiter: five to six small objects formed, only hundreds of kilometers in diameter. Some of them collided, to give our dusty asteroid belt today. This also commonly happens in the outermost parts of a solar system. These parts can be very massive, but even thus, from their huge span, they have a very low density. Again asteroid belts appear, as the Kuiper Belt and Oort clouds in our system, composed of very numerous objects ranging from 10km to 1000km in diameter.

«At the stage of the concentric rings, the basic structure of the future solar system is already present. Each ring only has to condense in turn, and this process can also lead to an accretion disk around the future planet, explaining why planets can have satellites and even rings like Saturn. Such stable rings remain when parts of an accretion disk are too close of the planet, and thus, with tide effect, cannot condense into solid objects.

«Knowing this, what is now interesting to note is that it is very often possible to understand how a given solar system is made in the way we observe it. It is possible to understand why there is an asteroid belt, why there is a giant planet, why there is a series of rocky planets, and even to guess in which order the planets formed.

«So when Angela started to make statistics about the various systems we observed, she perfectly knew how to make a model of any given system, and to explain any difference between observation and mean theory.

«Some before Angela already noted that there were sometimes unexplained gaps in the Titus Bode series of planets. Gaps as the missing planet between our Mars and our Jupiter. But in this case, we perfectly know how to explain this gap, and despite the lack of a planet there is however an asteroid belt.

«But in the already known cases of unexplained gaps, there was no asteroid belt in the place of the missing planet. There was simply nothing at a place where theory indicated that there must be a planet of a given mass and type.

«Angela's first interesting discovery was that the unexplained gaps were always in the ecosphere of the star, i.e. at the right distance to shelter life. With more or less greenhouse effect, a planet can have a temperature suitable for life in a somewhat large range of distance, usually two orbits in a series of Titus Bode. In our Solar system, Earth and Mars are both in the ecosphere, and if Mars had been big enough to maintain an atmosphere, it would have sheltered life. This discovery was very troublesome, as we can hardly see what physical phenomenon could produce such a result.

«There is an impressive curve you can see here, the statistics of the number of unexplained gaps as a function of the distance to the star (the best distance for life being taken as unity). This is an asymmetric bell curve. When Angela showed me that curve, I just answered her absent-mindedly that this curve was the now very well know curve of life sheltering planets versus distance of the star. But then I realized that it was the gaps curve, the missing planets curve! I may have look very surprised, as Angela burst in laughter!

«And the statistical tests were all giving a strong confidence with this result.

«Then I encouraged her to find other statistical evidences, and gave her the diagram of evolution versus time that Amédée Owamba exposed here yesterday, but which was not published at that time. She rushed on her computer and some hours later she came with a victorious smile, exhibiting the curve of missing planets over age of the star: it was just matching the truncated part of Owanba's diagram! I remember I just did not slept that night, and turned along all the time in my office!

«These statistical evidences were leading to an incredible conclusion: the missing planets were not a lack of formation of planets, but they were what happens to evolved planets where a civilization appeared! The very common destiny of a civilization thus would have been to disappear with its planet! Only few escaped such a destiny, and only by destruction. And the stage where a civilization exists must be very short, explaining that statistically we did not yet observed it, although it must be very common in our galaxy.

«At first we did not believed such an extravagant hypothesis. That civilizations could be destroyed, it is understandable. But if they are not ruined, they can last billions of years, and thus be very numerous in the galaxy, at any given moment. That they disappear without trace is already difficult to explain, but that the planet disappears together was almost weird and incredible.

«We in the team first did not dare to spread the new. We tried many explanations. The statistical evidences may be false, for some unknown reason. There were some really deterring explanations, for instance an unexpected discovery in physical science lead a day or another every civilization to build for instance very powerful particle accelerators, where an unforeseeable phenomenon, like the formation of a small black hole, provokes the destruction of the planet, like in some science fiction stories. If such a thing can exist, it is thus understandable that most civilizations may be trapped that way.

«But we all agreed that statistical evidences were not enough. To settle the question to know if the missing planets were really the place of ancient civilizations, it was decided to closely observe the other planets of these systems. All these civilizations may have more or less passed by a space age like ours, and may have left some traces on the neighboring planets of their own solar system. It was the Phantom project, launched under the official guise of seeking for an astrophysical explanation of the gaps. Such an exploration of lifeless planets was not yet done, or at least not with such an objective, that only a few selected scientists really knew.

«And, as you know it was recently announced, we found many traces of space exploration on such neighboring planets, and even in some cases of ancient colonies. We found space probes orbiting in such solar systems, and even in some cases flocks of ancient satellites, with all their orbits crossing the estimated last position of the missing planet. We found traces of landing, science observation plants, telescopes installed on neighboring planets, and even things looking like quantum telescopes. We even found in some cases traces of great buildings and railways, as if some Earthlings may have inhabited on the Moon. Traces of a space age, most powerful than ours, but not much more evolved. We found unknown things, but not unexplainable things.

«The most decisive proof was the discovery of some comets which orbit could be explained only if they were captured by a missing planet, when it was still there.

«All was left, on these planets, as it could happen if the Earth suddenly disappears in 2200 or 2300, letting behind just our laboratories on the Moon and our automatic stations on Mars.

«Only 10% of the missing planets showed such remnants, but it is understandable that these remnants may disappear with erosion in some tens of millions years. So very ancient missing planets could not show any trace. This was confirmed by statistic studies of the age of the stars: only recently disappeared planets show remnants, and even not all: space exploration seems not to be a mandatory step.

«We were all very puzzled with our discoveries. It was now sure that civilizations were really very numerous, as indicated by theory, but that every new civilization disappears with its planets, in a very short time compared to the age of the universe, explaining that we could not actually observe them. It is just looking at storm lightning the time of an eye blink: we are lucky if we capture a lightning, although this phenomenon is very common.

«The concern is what may make the planets to disappear. We even send warning to all scientists, not to engage into very new experiments in physics, in case some unexpected result or state of matter may destroy our Earth. We even warned politicians and armed forces, in case of some odd secret experiment taking place somewhere.

«The public announcement of these strange discoveries brought many expectations. We feared some backfire of social troubles, with pessimistic views on the future of our planet. You know that the moral and social senses of people are strongly dependent of what seems achievable in the future. A pessimistic view could destroy moral sense of many people. But nothing such happened. There was on the contrary a huge interest on the study of planets and life, and especially on the issue of the missing planets.

«Negative of fascist social movements did not stop, but it was clearly felt that the main interesting things were now elsewhere.

«It is this strong demand which allowed this colloquia to have so much success, when the first gathered only some tens of scientists. Hundred of millions of people throughout the world are looking at this event on their screens, in hope for complete explanations and even of some unexpected new discovery.

«It seems that their hope shall not be deceived, especially with the new announcements to be made this afternoon by Jean Delcourt. The managers even decided just last night to completely change the program, in order to allow for the presentation of this new discovery.

«Thank you for your attention»



The missing planets

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