Phaeton (hypothetical planet)
Phaeton (or Phaëton, less often Phaethon) is the name of a hypothetical planet posited to have existed between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter whose destruction supposedly led to the formation of the asteroid belt. The hypothetical planet was named for Phaëton, the son of the sun god Helios in Greek mythology, who attempted to drive his father's solar chariot for a day with disastrous results and was ultimately destroyed by Zeus.
The asteroid 3200 Phaethon, sometimes incorrectly spelled Phaeton, shares Phaeton's name. 3200 Phaethon is a Mercury-, Venus-, Earth-, and Mars- orbit crossing Apollo asteroid with unusual properties.
The Phaeton hypothesis
According to the now-discredited Titius–Bode law, a planet was believed to exist between Mars and Jupiter. Johann Elert Bode himself urged a search for the fifth planet. When Ceres, the largest of the asteroids in the asteroid belt (now considered a dwarf planet), was serendipitously discovered in 1801 by the Italian Giuseppe Piazzi and found to match the predicted position of the fifth planet, many believed it was the missing planet. However, in 1802 astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers discovered and named another object in the same general orbit as Ceres, the asteroid Pallas.
Olbers proposed that these new discoveries were the fragments of a disrupted planet that had formerly revolved around the sun. He also predicted that more of these pieces would be found. The discovery of the asteroid Juno by Karl Ludwig Harding and Vesta by Olbers buttressed the Olbers hypothesis.
Theories regarding the formation of the asteroid belt from the destruction of a hypothetical fifth planet are today collectively referred to as the "disruption theory". This theory states that there was once a major planetary member of the solar system circulating in the present gap between Mars and Jupiter, which was variously destroyed when:
- it veered too close to Jupiter and was torn apart by the gas giant's powerful gravity
- it was struck by another large celestial body
- it was destroyed by a hypothetical brown dwarf, the companion star to the Sun known as Nemesis
- it was shattered by some internal catastrophe
Today, the Phaeton hypothesis has been superseded by the accretion model. Most astronomers today believe that the asteroids in the main belt are remnants of the protoplanetary disk, and in this region the incorporation of protoplanetary remnants into the planets was prevented by large gravitational perturbations induced by Jupiter during the formative period of the solar system.
The hypothesis continues to be advocated by some non-scientists. One notable proponent is Zecharia Sitchin, who has proposed, based on his reading of ancient Sumerian mythology, that the planet known to the Sumerians as Tiamat was destroyed by a rogue planet known as Nibiru. However, his work is widely regarded as pseudoscience.
In 1988, Donald W. Patten wrote a book entitled Catastrophism and the Old Testament outlining the theory that a planet he called Astra overtook Mars and, upon reaching the Roche limit, broke apart much like the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 did when it reached Jupiter's Roche limit in 1994.
Phaeton in literature
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. – see, for instance, "Olbers," Britannica
- Christy-Vitale, Joseph (2004). Watermark: The Disaster That Changed the World and Humanity 12,000 Years Ago. New York: Simon and Schuster.
- McSween, Harry Y. (2004). Meteorites and Their Parent Planets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., p. 35.
- Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. New York Academy of Sciences., Records of meetings 1808–1916 in v. 11–27, p. 872.
- La planète manquante(astrosurf.com)
- Les Astéroides(csdc.qc.ca)
- One of Our Planets is Missing (the galaxyexpress.com)
- One of Our Planets is Missing (lightforcenetwork.com)
- geocities(in Portuguese)
- Don Elkins, Carla Rueckert, James Allen McCarty. The Ra Material: An Ancient Astronaut Speaks (The Law of One , No 1). Donning Company Publishers, 1984. ISBN 978-0-89865-260-4. amazon.com. Retrieved on December 26, 2008.
- J. Timothy Unruh, Phaeton, The Lost Planet: An Ancient World that Perished, An Astronomer's Account of the Missing Planet Between Mars and Jupiter as Interpreted from Observations Made Within a Biblical Context – an online book that posits that the planet Phaeton played a role in Noah's Flood
- J. Timothy Unruh, "Phaeton, The Lost Planet: An Ancient World that Perished," Planetary Papers, No. 6 – a condensed version of Unruh's book
- Kevin O'Flynn, " Asteroid Could End World Monday," Asteroid News, December 16, 2000