NASA: Earth may have ‘hairy’ dark matter

This illustration shows Earth surrounded by theoretical filaments of dark matter called "hairs." (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration shows Earth surrounded by theoretical filaments of dark matter called “hairs.” (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Clearly, facial hair really is extremely popular at the moment. New research suggests that even the solar system may be ‘hairier’ than originally thought.

A new study by Gary Prézeau of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. proposes the existence of long filaments of dark matter, or “hairs.” Prézeau’s study is publishing this week in the Astrophysical Journal.

Related: Mars will become a ringed planet when Phobos dies

“Dark matter is an invisible, mysterious substance that makes up about 27 percent of all matter and energy in the universe,” explained NASA, in astatement. “The regular matter, which makes up everything we can see around us, is only 5 percent of the universe. The rest is dark energy, a strange phenomenon associated with the acceleration of our expanding universe.”

NASA added that neither dark matter nor dark energy has ever been directly detected, although a number of experiments are trying to unlock the mysteries of dark matter, whether from deep underground or in space.

Related: Cool NASA images reveal day in the life of Pluto

“Based on many observations of its gravitational pull in action, scientists are certain that dark matter exists, and have measured how much of it there is in the universe to an accuracy of better than one percent,” explained NASA. “The leading theory is that dark matter is ‘cold,’ meaning it doesn’t move around much, and it is ‘dark’ insofar as it doesn’t produce or interact with light.”

The space agency added that galaxies, which contain stars made of ordinary matter, form because of fluctuations in the density of dark matter. Gravity, it noted, acts as the glue that holds both the ordinary and dark matter together in galaxies.

Related: What you need to know about sex in space

Research undertaken in the 1990s and the last decade found that dark matter forms “fine-grained streams” of particles.

“When gravity interacts with the cold dark matter gas during galaxy formation, all particles within a stream continue traveling at the same velocity,” said Prézeau, in the NASA statement.

Using computer simulations Prézeau studied what happens when dark matter particle “streams” approach Earth. “His analysis finds that when a dark matter stream goes through a planet, the stream particles focus into an ultra-dense filament, or ‘hair,’ of dark matter,” explained NASA. “In fact, there should be many such hairs sprouting from Earth.”

Related: Astronaut Scott Kelly’s ‘UFO’ photo generates extraterrestrial buzz

The computer simulations also showed that changes in density found inside Earth – from the inner core, to the outer core, to the mantle to the crust – would be reflected in the hairs. Scientists noted that the hairs would have “kinks” in them that correspond to the transitions between the different layers of Earth.

“Theoretically, if it were possible to obtain this information, scientists could use hairs of cold dark matter to map out the layers of any planetary body, and even infer the depths of oceans on icy moons,” NASA noted.

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Stars in distant galaxies found to have a pulse

The monstrous elliptical galaxy M87, located 53 million light-years from Earth is the dominant galaxy at the center of the neighboring Virgo cluster of galaxies. Astronomers have measured the "heartbeats" of stars within M87 and used that data to determine the galaxy's age in a new way. This photograph was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument. (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team)

The monstrous elliptical galaxy M87, located 53 million light-years from Earth is the dominant galaxy at the center of the neighboring Virgo cluster of galaxies. Astronomers have measured the “heartbeats” of stars within M87 and used that data to determine the galaxy’s age in a new way. This photograph was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument. (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team)

One of the telltale signs of a dying star is its tendency to pulsate.

This behavior has been seen in our own Milky Way but it has been difficult to document in distant galaxies. Now, a team of researchers from Harvard and Yale have for the first time shown that stars that are located tens of millions of light years away have a heartbeat, if you will.

“We tend to think of galaxies as steady beacons in the sky, but they are actually shimmering due to all the giant, pulsating stars in them,” said Pieter van Dokkum, the Sol Goldman Professor and chair of astronomy at Yale, and co-author of the study that appears this week in the journal Nature.

Related: Hubble space telescope captures stunning image of barred spiral galaxy

“These pulsating stars are rare. All stars go through this phase but it doesn’t last that long,” he told “You don’t see a lot of them but we figured the stars are so bright and change so much in their brightness we might be able to detect them in other galaxies than our own, even though there the light is completely swamped by all the stars that don’t vary, don’t have any changes.”

As they age, stars like our Sun undergo dramatic changes. They become extremely bright and become huge, swallowing any planets within a radius roughly equivalent to Earth’s distance from the Sun. And as they are dying, the stars, including scores in our Milky Way galaxy begin to pulsate, increasing and decreasing their brightness every few hundred days.

Related: The best of Hubble: NASA marks telescope’s 25th anniversary

Setting their sights on the galaxy Messier 87, the researchers used three months of data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2006 to detect thousands of stellar pulses – about one beat every 270 days. They were also able to measure the effect that pulsating, older red stars have on the light of their surrounding galaxy.

“We realized that these stars are so bright and their pulsations so strong, that they are difficult to hide,” said Charlie Conroy, an assistant professor at Harvard University and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the research.

The researchers had their work cut out for them when they decided to study M87, which is located 53 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. The images from Hubble that they studied contained 100 billion stars and each pixel alone contained a million stars.

“Each of those pixels has like a million stars in them because the galaxies are so far away that we don’t see individual stars. We just see the combined light of all the stars in the galaxy,” van Dokkum said.

Related: Hubble telescope captures images of galaxies from 13.2 billion years ago

“Normally, you wouldn’t be able to detect the light of an individual star in that pixel,” he said. “But because these pulsating stars are so bright and the pulsation is so strong, we could see that about a quarter of the pixels of the image changed their brightness. They changed it because the pixels contain these pulsating stars.”

Van Dokkum said the discovery could prompt astronomers to view the solar system in a different light.

“It leads to a different way of looking at galaxies, where we always see them as completely static in the sky, unchanging on human time scales,” he said. “In fact, they are shimmering. They are shimmering constantly. Every pixel in the image is getting brighter and fainter and they are not constant at all, which is sort of a different way of almost thinking about the light in the universe.”

The researchers said the discovery also offers a new way of measuring the age of a galaxy, because the strength and speed of a galaxy’s heartbeat varies depending on its age. The team found that M87 is about 10 billion years old, a number that roughly agrees with previous estimates using different techniques.

“For the age we thought – 10 billion years, we saw the exact number of stars that we expected,” van Dokkum said. “So, it turns out our models for this particular age are correct. Now, the next step is to look at younger galaxies and see if they have indeed stronger pulsations which we would predict.”

And the behavior of these stars so far away could offer a preview
of what we should expect to see closer to home when the Sun eventually dies.

“We care about these stars because it’s our own future,” van Dokkum said.

“The Sun will go through this phase in about 5 billion years so this phase of the evolution of stars has particular relevance to us,” he said. “It’s the death throes of these stars. It’s
quite spectacular. The Sun at some point will grow as large as the orbit of the Earth. The Earth will be burnt to a crisp. It won’t be a pleasant time to be around.”

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Astronaut Scott Kelly’s ‘UFO’ photo generates extraterrestrial buzz

The truth is out there … maybe. A photo tweeted by astronaut Scott Kelly is generating plenty of extraterrestrial buzz.

Kelly, who recently broke the U.S. record for most days in space, tweeted the picture taken from the International Space Station Sunday.

An apparent ‘object’ in the top right hand corner of the image has piqued the interest of UFO hunters such as sonofmabarker. “In the upper right of the photo you can clearly see a large object with two lights on each end. It also appears to be very large and constructed,” he wrote, in a post accompanying a YouTube video on the image.

Related: Strange ‘ancient face’ spotted on Mars rock

In a blog post on the UFO Sightings Daily website, Scott Waring also weighed in on the image.  “Scott Kelly likes to send out photos of the view from the windows of the space station … and they look cool,” he wrote. “This one however has a cigar shaped glowing UFO with a metallic body in it.”

Waring notes that that the mysterious object is about 82 feet long and between 492 and 981 feet away. “It looks like Scott was trying to hint at the existence of aliens. Message received Scott, and thanks.” he added.

Related: Time to clean up all that space junk, says NASA chief

The object, of course, may be a reflection in the Space Station’s window, or even a piece of space debris.  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, for example, recently warned that too little is being done to remove debris from space,

An object that appears in the right hand corner of an image tweeted by Kelly Thursday is also generating buzz.

NASA has not yet responded to a request for comment on the images from

What do you think the ‘objects’ are?


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Cool NASA images reveal day in the life of Pluto

In July 2015, the cameras on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft captured Pluto rotating over the course of a full "Pluto day." The best available images of each side of Pluto taken during approach have been combined to create this view of a full rotation. ( NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

In July 2015, the cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured Pluto rotating over the course of a full “Pluto day.” The best available images of each side of Pluto taken during approach have been combined to create this view of a full rotation. ( NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Ever wonder what a day on Pluto looks like?

Well, NASA has the answer. Thanks to images captured by the New Horizon probe, we can see Pluto rotating over the course of a full “Pluto day,” which equates to 6.4 Earth days.

The images were taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera as the distance between New Horizons and Pluto decreased from 5 million miles on July 7 to 400,000 miles on July 13. The more distant images contribute to the view at the 3 o’clock position, with the top of the heart-shaped, informally named Tombaugh Regio slipping out of view, giving way to the side of Pluto that was facing away from New Horizons during closest approach on July 14.

Related: NASA releases first Pluto flyby images

Among other things, these images reveal the differences between the encounter hemisphere and the so-called “far side” hemisphere seen only at lower resolution. Dimples in the bottom (south) edge of Pluto’s disk are artifacts of the way the images were combined to create these composites.

In a similar set of images, New Horizons also caught a day in the life of Charon – the largest of Pluto’s five moons. It also rotates once every 6.4 Earth days.

The photos were taken by LORRI and Ralph/MVIC from July 7-13, as New Horizons closed in over a range of 6.4 million miles. The more distant images contribute to the view at the 9 o’clock position, with few of the signature surface features visible, such as the cratered uplands, canyons, or rolling plains of the informally named Vulcan Planum.

Related: NASA spacecraft discovers blue sky, red ice on Pluto

These images show how similar looking the encounter hemisphere is to the so-called “far side” hemisphere seen only at low resolution — which is the opposite of the situation at Pluto. Dimples in the bottom (south) edge of Charon’s disk are artifacts of the way the New Horizons images were combined to create these composites.


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Strange ‘ancient face’ spotted on Mars rock

This image from Mars Opportunity appears to show the face of what UFO enthusiasts say is an ancient God. NASA

This image from Mars Opportunity appears to show the face of what UFO enthusiasts say is an ancient God. NASA

For anyone scanning photos of Mars, the Red Planet can often seem like a house of mirrors.

Amid the dust and rocks, there have over the years been reports of what seem to be images of human faces, a spoon and, of course, the portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in profile.

Related: Strange ‘figure’ spotted by Mars Curiosity Rover

Now, some UFO enthusiasts believe they have stumbled upon another humdinger – this one is a 2010 mage from Mars Opportunity rover that is said to resemble ancient Mesopotamian sculptures.The image was taken at a site called “Concepción Crater,” a spot that had stumped scientists due to weird coatings on rocks near the crater.

The website, UFO Sightings Daily, brought this mysterious rock to light earlier in the week and seems convinced it is onto something. UFO Sightings Daily compares the image to that of ancient Mesopotamian sculpture

“Found these faces on Mars side by side. One is looking towards us and the other is looking to the left. The face looking at us has a lot of similarities to the ancient Mesopotamia faces,” Scott Waring said on UFO Sightings Daily, next to the photo.

Related: Why We See Jesus’ Face in Toast

CNET notes a certain resemblance to a NEO-Assyrian attendant god dedicated to Nabu, a god of wisdom.

NASA, for some reason, hasn’t appeared all that interested in exploring the mystery of the face.

“As you can probably tell, it is a natural rock at the disrupted rim of a small crater, not a sculpture made by some ancient culture,” NASA spokesman Guy Webster told in an email. “But it’s great that people are using their imaginations and enjoying the full public access to every image taken by any Mars rover.”

Instead, NASA is more concerned with directing the Curiosity Rover to a network of active dunes – as tall as a two-story building and as wide as a football field – that they will tell scientists something about the planet’s current environment as well as the sandstone layers made from the dunes that turned into rock long ago


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Attempt to better define planets could make our Moon one

A Blue Moon rises Friday, July 31, 2015 as seen from Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines.

A Blue Moon rises Friday, July 31, 2015 as seen from Taguig city east of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

You’ll remember the International Astronomical Union’s redefinition of a planet in 2006 as the move that demoted Pluto to a mere dwarf planet. But scientists recall the change for another reason: The new classification is incredibly vague.

Basically, any nearly round celestial body that orbits the sun and has sucked in or flung away all objects around its orbit is now deemed a planet, reportsMotherboard.

While the latter requirement is what felled Pluto, the IAU definition as a whole refers only to planets in our solar system, notes UCLA planetary scientist Jean-Luc Margot.

“I want a classification that applies both to the solar system and to exoplanets,” he tells New Scientist, and he’s come up with a mathematical formula, based on the size of the planet’s orbit and the mass of its sun, to make it happen.

The formula determines if a celestial body has the mass necessary to clear its orbit and “when a body has sufficient mass to clear its orbital neighborhood, it also has sufficient mass to overcome material strength and pull itself into a nearly round shape,” Margot says in a release.

The formula can be applied to 99% of 5,000 known exoplanets, he adds, and would allow scientists to identify a new exoplanet without the need for high resolution images.

Oddly enough, if the IAU adjusts its definition to include Margot’s formula at the next general assembly in 2018, the moon would become a planet because it has the critical mass necessary.

Keep in mind, however, that “the IAU has not defined the term ‘satellite,'” Margot says. “When they do, that will affect what they might decide about double planets versus satellites.” (This astronomer thinks Pluto should be a planet again.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: New Definition Could Make the Moon a Planet

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Earth stole water and more from the young Moon

An artist's image of a collision between two planetary bodies. A similar crash likely formed the Earth and moon. New research suggests that the Earth took water and other volatiles from the moon after the collision.

An artist’s image of a collision between two planetary bodies. A similar crash likely formed the Earth and moon. New research suggests that the Earth took water and other volatiles from the moon after the collision. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Earth may have stolen away water that would otherwise have gone to the moon.

New research suggests that after the impact that formed the Earth and its moon, our planet may have snatched up easily vaporized material known as volatiles, including water and other molecules. As the newly formed moon moved away, it may have spurned the remaining material available, casting it back toward Earth.

“The idea for decades has been that the vaporized volatiles escaped, and that’s why the moon lacks them,” Robin Canup, of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, said on Nov. 10 in a news briefing at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, in National Harbor, Maryland. Canup was the lead author of a research paper that proposed the material didn’t vaporize, but instead hung around. [Water on the Moon: The Search in Photos]

“We’re exploring an alternative,” she said.

My water! All mine!

Early in the life of the solar system, a young, volatile-rich protoplanet floated near what is Earth’s orbit today. A violent collision with another massive object, called Theia, is thought to have shattered that growing world, allowing the formation of the Earth and moon.

Rocks found on the moon bear a striking similarity to those on Earth, but with one difference: They are noticeably lacking in volatile material, such as water, zinc, sodium and potassium. For years, scientists proposed that the heat from the crash with Theia might have vaporized the volatiles, allowing them to completely escape the system. But Canup and her team argue that very little of that material would have been lost, because the speed necessary to leave Earth’s gravity would be so high. If that material stuck around, it would have been available for both the Earth and the moon to gather up. [Evolution of the Moon: A Visual Timeline (Gallery)]

In only a handful of years, both the Earth and moon would have re-formed their cores. The remaining material, including the volatiles, would have orbited the larger Earth in a ring system similar to Saturn’s. For a brief window of time, the moon would have collected some of the lighter stuff, a process that could have led to a volatile-rich core for the satellite. At the same time, the larger Earth would have gathered more of the volatile mass than its younger sibling did.

“But the process doesn’t persist indefinitely,” so the moon eventually stopped collecting volatiles, Canup said.

Since its formation, the moon has been steadily orbiting farther and farther from Earth; today, it moves away at a rate of 1.5 inches each year. As that process occurred in the first few decades of the moon’s lifetime, the satellite quickly lost the ability to accrete water and other lighter materials from Earth’s ring. Instead, as the dust and gas of the ring interacted with the gravity of the satellite, those materials were flung back toward the planet rather than falling onto the moon.

The moon would take the last half of its mass from the inner region of Earth’s disk, which would have been too hot to contain water and other volatile material, Canup said. The result would be a rocky crust on the moon ranging from 60 to 300 miles thick. The layers under that crust could contain more of the missing materials.

The team reached its new results, which were published online in the journalNature Geoscience, by combining models of heat and chemistry with the previously utilized models of motion, the first time this had been done. The chemistry models were developed especially for this work, and were built to simulate the oxygen-dominated disk that would surround the new Earth, rather than the hydrogen-dominated disk surrounding the sun.

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NASA chief: Time to clean up all that space junk

Trackable objects in orbit around Earth. Note: Size of debris is exaggerated relative to the Earth in this artist's interpretation.

Trackable objects in orbit around Earth. Note: Size of debris is exaggerated relative to the Earth in this artist’s interpretation. (ESA)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden warns that too little is being done to remove debris from space, an issue that has drawn plenty of attention this week after an unknown object made a fiery entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Speaking Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Bolden said more countries need to step up to the plate and put funding into efforts to clean up space – which is crowded with all sorts of objects, from nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris and fragmentation debris – all traveling at 17,500 mph.

Related: Woman hit by space junk, lives to tell the tale

“Not a lot of countries are putting money into debris removal development, and more of us need to,” he said.

“We are among those that’s not putting a lot of money into debris removal,” he said. “We work a lot on what we call debris mitigation, making rules that say when you put something in space it has to have enough fuel to, when its mission is over, you can either put it into a parking orbit where it won’t come back for a hundred years, or you can safely de-orbit it into the ocean. But that’s not the answer. The answer’s going to be debris removal, and we’ve got to figure out how to do that.”

Within the U.S. Department of Defense, the Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC-Space) currently tracks 23,000 objects in low-Earth orbit. NASA officials have estimated that roughly 500,000 pieces of space junk larger than a marble circle the planet, and there could be more than 100 million tiny fragments, some as small as flecks of paint.

On rare occasions, the space junk enters Earth’s atmosphere as the object known as WT1190F did early on Friday. Experts had forecast that the unknown object – which could be a spent rocket stage, a paneling shed from a recent moon mission, or even a piece of debris dating back to the Apollo missions – would enter Earth’s atmosphere at about 1:20 a.m. ET.

Related: Mysterious space junk makes spectacular re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere

They had predicted a splashdown in the Indian Ocean about 62 miles off the coast of Sri Lanka. But it was unclear if the object actually landed.

For much of his talk, Bolden focused on Mars and the dream of sending  an astronaut first to an asteroid in the 2020s and then the Red Planet in the 2030s. While he didn’t offer any fresh details of the mission, he did defend the idea of sending humans to Mars- rather than leaving its exploration to probes as is done today.

“Robots don’t reason and robots don’t—you know, they don’t make choices the way that human beings do yet. That’s not to say that they won’t someday,” he said, noting the impact that astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt made when he was sent to the Moon as part of Apollo 17.

“Everybody believes that if we had put a human on Mars two years ago, when we put Curiosity there, we would know infinitely more about the planet today than we do because we’re relying on this robot kind of creeping across the surface and, you know, giving us little tidbits of stuff when we tell it to do that—because we have to program it each evening so that the next day it will go here and it will take a—take a picture of this,” he said. “But it’s incredibly valuable to have humans there.“

Still, Bolden said such a mission wouldn’t be taken lightly – especially when it comes to the health of the astronauts. The two big challenges, he said, would be the radiation that the astronauts would be exposed to over a long period of time and the psychological impact of being in space for possibly months at a time. Currently, the trip would take eight months.

Related: Year-long crew isolation begins in training for Mars mission

“If we could go faster — so if there are any of you out there who are propulsion scientists or propulsion engineers and you want to do something for humanity, bring us a rocket that can cut the time to go to Mars in half,” he said. “You know, every day, every second that you spend in transit to Mars is that much more exposure to the human body to potentially harmful radiation.”

Currently, NASA is running a year-long experiment involving astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station. Genomicists are looking at Kelly’s DNA and comparing it to that of his Earth-based brother Mark to see if they can detect any changes.

But while Bolden said NASA has “pretty much wrestled to the ground bone loss, muscle mass loss, you know, muscle atrophy and the like, the big challenge will be psychological.”

He talked about a scenario where a female astronaut Skypes home but the delay leaves her young daughter on the other end of the call just staring at a screen.

Related: Details of 1st private manned Mars mission revealed

“It could be seconds or it could be minutes because now you’re far enough away that the speed of light just won’t get it there the way it does right now,” he said. “And so to talk to your young child, and to have your young child talk to you, is going to be traumatic for you and your young child. We don’t know how to deal with that yet.”

Then, he brought up the movie “The Martian” where psychological issues play a critical part.

“The guy who played me, what was he worried about in informing the crew that — you know, that Matt Damon was still alive?” he said. “The psychological impact on the crew, you know, knowing that they had left a crew member on Mars who was still living. So psychological problems, psychological issues will be something that we just don’t deal with yet.”


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Naval missile test off Southern California coast creates stir

The Navy fired an unarmed missile from a submarine off the Southern California coast on Saturday, creating a bright light that streaked across the state and was visible as far away as Nevada and Arizona.

Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a spokesman for the Navy, said the Navy Strategic Systems Programs conducted the missile test at sea from the USS Kentucky, a ballistic missile submarine.

“The tests were part of a scheduled, on-going system evaluation test,” Perry said in a statement.

Perry said the launches are conducted on a frequent basis to ensure the continued reliability of the system and that information about such test launches is classified prior to launch.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department also confirmed the test launch of an unarmed missile.

“The light seen in the OC sky was confirmed through JWA tower to be a Naval test fire off the coast,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter. JWA tower refers to John Wayne Airport which is in Orange.

The lack of information about the streak of light around sunset led to a flurry of calls to law enforcement agencies and lit up social media as people posted photos and video of the light. Many people claimed the light could’ve been a meteor, a missile or a visit from extraterrestrials.

The claim of a meteor could have been plausible because of the ongoing Taurid meteor shower that is taking place between Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 and is expected to be more active than usual this year, according to NASA.

It wasn’t clear whether the test was related to the rerouting of nighttime flights into and out of Los Angeles International Airport because of an active military airspace from Friday to Nov. 12.

Flights usually arrive and depart over the ocean from midnight to 6:30 a.m. to minimize noise, but they will have to go over communities east of the airport.

The test was conducted in the Pacific Test Range, a vast area northwest of Los Angeles where the Navy periodically test-fires Tomahawk and Standard cruise missiles from surface ships and submarines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Space bully: Jupiter may have kicked giant planet out of its orbit

Color mosaic of Jupiter constructed from images taken by the narrow angle camera onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 29, 2000. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Color mosaic of Jupiter constructed from images taken by the narrow angle camera onboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 29, 2000. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

It seems that some planets just can’t play nicely together. Scientists at the University of Toronto have discovered that Jupiter may have ejected another planet from the Solar System 4 billion years ago.

The astrophysicists detailed their findings in a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal, noting the existence of a fifth gas planet when the Solar System formed, a theory that was first proposed in 2011. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are the other gas planets.

Related: Supermoon lunar eclipse in pictures

Planet ejections occur following a close planetary encounter in which one of the objects accelerates so much that it breaks free from the massive gravitational pull of the Sun, according to the University of Toronto.

Either Jupiter or Saturn was suspected to be the culprit. “Our evidence points to Jupiter,” said Ryan Cloutier, a doctoral candidate in the University’s department of astronomy and astrophysics, and the study’s lead author, in a statement.

Related: Stunning Perseid meteor shower pictures

Experts, however, had not previously considered the impact of a planet ejection on other orbiting bodies, such as moons.

The University of Toronto scientists used computer simulations based on the current trajectories of Callisto and Iapetus, moons of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. They also examined the possibility that the moons could maintain their orbit in the event that their host planet ejected another planet from the solar system.

Related: The best of Hubble

“Ultimately, we found that Jupiter is capable of ejecting the fifth giant planet while retaining a moon with the orbit of Callisto,” said Cloutier, in the statement. “On the other hand, it would have been very difficult for Saturn to do so because Iapetus would have been excessively unsettled, resulting in an orbit that is difficult to reconcile with its current trajectory.”

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