Modelling the dynamics of a hypothetical Planet X by way of gravitational N-body simulator

Michael Cowley, Stephen Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes a novel activity to model the dynamics of a Jupiter-mass, trans-Neptunian planet of a highly eccentric orbit. Despite a history rooted in modern astronomy, 'Planet X', a hypothesised hidden planet lurking in our outer Solar System, has often been touted by conspiracy theorists as the cause of past mass extinction events on Earth, as well as other modern-day doomsday scenarios. Frequently dismissed as pseudoscience by astronomers, these stories continue to draw the attention of the public by provoking mass media coverage. Targeted at junior undergraduate levels, this activity allows students to debunk some of the myths surrounding Planet X by using simulation software to demonstrate that such a large-mass planet with extreme eccentricity would be unable to enter our Solar System unnoticed, let alone maintain a stable orbit.

Original languageEnglish
Article number025602
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Physics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • simulation
  • celestial mechanics
  • planets


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