Phaeton (hypothetical planet)

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Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers, who formulated the planet Phaeton hypothesis

Phaeton (or Phaëton, less often Phaethon) is the 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[edit]

According to the 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 orbited 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 its 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

In the twentieth century, Russian comet specialist Sergei Orloff named the planet Phaeton after the story in Greek myth.[1][2][3][4][5]

Today, the Phaeton hypothesis has been superseded by the accretion model.[6] 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.

Fringe theories[edit]

The hypothesis continues to be advocated by some non-scientists and fringe 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.[7]

In UFO and channelling related sources, such as The Law of One, and also in the Ascended Master Teachings, a group of religions based on Theosophy, Phaeton is referred to as Maldek.[8]

The astronomer and author Tom Van Flandern held that it exploded through some internal mechanism. In his "Exploded Planet Hypothesis 2000", he lists as possible reasons for explosion, either a runaway nuclear reaction in uranium in the core, or a change of state as the planet cools down creating a density phase change (like water to ice) causing it to implode or explode, or through continual absorption of heat in the core from gravitons..[9][10][11]

Phaeton in literature[edit]

See also[edit]



  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, 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.


  1. ^ La planète manquante(
  2. ^ Les Astéroides(
  3. ^ One of Our Planets is Missing (the
  4. ^ One of Our Planets is Missing (
  5. ^ geocities(in Portuguese)
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Donald W. Patten". The Seattle Times. Feb 16, 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  8. ^ 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. Retrieved on December 26, 2008.
  9. ^ Van Flandern, Tom. org/solar% 20system/eph/eph2000. asp "The Exploded Planet Hypothesis 2000." Meta Research, (2000).
  10. ^ Flandern, Tom Van (2007). "The challenge of the exploded planet hypothesis". International Journal of Astrobiology 6 (03): 185. doi:10.1017/S1473550407003758. ISSN 1473-5504. 
  11. ^ Van Flandern, Tom. Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets: Paradoxes Resolved, Origins Illuminated. North Atlantic Books, 1999.

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