Scientists have said that a massive object lurking at the edge of the solar system could be responsible for hurling comets at Earth.
Most comets that fly into the inner solar system seem to come the Oort cloud - a region of icy dust and debris left over from the birth of the Solar System.
Now new calculations suggest a large object that is up to four times as big as Jupiter could be responsible for sending them in our direction.
Astrophysicists at the University of Louisiana have analysed the comets in the Oort cloud and deduced that 25 per-cent of them would need a nudge by a body of at least Jupiter size before they changed orbit.
John Matese and Daniel Whitmire came up with theory said that “something smaller than a Jovian mass would not be strong enough to perform the task,” reports the Daily Mail.
“I think this whole issue will be resolved in the next five to 10 years, because there’s surveys coming on line that will dwarf the comet sample we have today,” said Matese.
“Whether these types of asymmetries in the directions that comets are coming from actually do exist or not will definitely be hammered out by those surveys,” he added.
The researchers said that it could be found up to 30,000 astronomical units from the sun. They suggest that during its orbit it would regularly enter the Oort cloud, jostling the orbits of many comets there and causing some to fall toward Earth.
“Most planetary scientists would not be surprised if the largest undiscovered companion was Neptune-sized or smaller, but a Jupiter-mass object would be a surprise,” Matese told SPACE.com.
“If the conjecture is indeed true, the important implications would relate to how it got there — touching on the early solar environment — and how it might have affected the subsequent distributions of comets and, to a lesser extent, the known planets.”
The research appeared in the online edition of the journal Icarus.