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In 2016, an additional object rotating our Sun has been suggested. Assuming it has 5 Earth masses, would the planet or black hole proposed by Brown and Batigyn have a barycenter within the Sun or outside, or might it orbit the Sun-Jupiter barycenter, like Sedna?

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a link to this (rather daring) hypothesis? $\endgroup$ – planetmaker Jun 9 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @planetmaker Dr. Becky mentioned this in a video in 2019. Here's the paper she linked to (What if Planet 9 is a Primordial Black Hole?) which cites this paper: K. Batygin, and M. E. Brown, Evidence for a distant giant planet in the solar system, AJ 151.2 (2016): 22. 1601.05438 $\endgroup$ – Alex Hajnal Jun 9 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ My question asks where the barycenter of the hypothetical object would be, not if it is a planet or black hole (which we don't know, not even if the object exists). $\endgroup$ – John Jun 9 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ @John, planetmaker was asking for a reference to papers positing the hypothesis. $\endgroup$ – Alex Hajnal Jun 9 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @John Thanks for the clarifying edit! $\endgroup$ – B--rian Jun 11 at 14:31
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The proposal is that the apparent planet 9 is, in fact, a primordial black-hole, with mass comparable to a planet and a diameter measured in centimeters. Such an object would be almost undetectable.

Its orbit would be identical to an equivalent sized planet.

In a two body system, obeying Newtonian gravity, both bodies will follow elliptical orbits, with the barycentre at their focus. The barycentre will be at rest, so it is reasonable to make a coordinate frame in which the barycenter is at (0,0) and the two objects orbit around it.

In the case of a three (or more) body system, the orbit won't be elliptical. So the notion of a point around which the body orbits becomes less clear. It will be affected by the gravity of all the other solar system bodies, and it's acceleration vector (in an inertial frame) will point towards the centre of mass of the other solar system bodies, but this point is would not be fixed.

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    $\begingroup$ Fun aside: The first paper I linked to above includes an actual size illustration of the hypothetical 5M⊕ black hole (the picture is a 4.5cm radius black circle). $\endgroup$ – Alex Hajnal Jun 9 at 18:08
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If we have two masses $M$ and $m$, which are at distances $r_1$ and $r_2$ respectively from their barycentre, then $$Mr_1 = Mr_2$$

Let $d$ equal the total distance between the two bodies. That is, $d = r_1 + r_2$. Then $$r_1 = \frac{dM}{M+m}$$ where $r_1$ is the distance of the barycentre from the body with mass $M$.

The paper linked in the comments suggests a figure of 500 au for the distance between the Sun and the alleged Planet 9. Let $M$ be the mass of the Sun, and $m$ be the mass of Planet 9. Using units of Earth masses, we have $M=333000$ and $m=5$.

Plugging those numbers into our equation, we get $$r_1 = \frac{500×5}{333005} \approx 0.0075074$$ for the distance (in au) of the barycentre from the centre of the Sun.

Now, the solar radius (the nominal radius of its photosphere) is $0.00465047$ au. So the barycentre is well outside the Sun. It's roughly $1.61$ solar radii from the centre of the Sun, or $\approx 427400$ km above the surface of the photosphere.


As James K points out, to accurately calculate the orbit of a body in the Solar System we need to include the masses of all the other bodies. Of course, that's impractical. The best ephemerides are produced by JPL, and their Development Ephemeris series currently uses the masses and locations of all major Solar System bodies down to the 340 most significant asteroids.

As you can see here, the motion of the Solar System barycentre (SSB) is not simple. And its true location is not precisely known, mostly because we don't know the details of the mass distribution in the far outer reaches of the Solar System. In fact, recent updates to the JPL Horizons system have modified their value for the SSB.

From Horizons System News:

April 12, 2021

The current catalog of 1.1 million asteroid and comet solutions are being refit for dynamical consistency with DE441 perturbations. The new solutions will filter into the database over the next days. Due to the addition of KBO mass in DE440/441, the SSB has shifted about 100 km

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. Your linked answer too. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 11 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ I'm having a fundamental problem understanding the concepts here, I'm somehow missing something. The solar system barycenter is moving... with respect to what? Some group of distant pulsars? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 11 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh I think you meant quasars, not pulsars. See the International Celestial Reference System. The Solar System as a whole has peculiar velocity relative to the Milky Way, and of course the Milky Way has its own motion relative to the Local Group, etc. But all of that isn't very relevant in the context of Solar System dynamics. For Solar System ephemerides, it's nice to use a frame with the SSB as the origin. But as I noted above, we don't really know its true location, so we use a "nominal" SSB. $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring Jun 11 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ The IERS has a lot of info about the ICRS. I must confess that I've only looked at a few of their (& NASA's) documents on this topic. They have some great info, but there's also a lot of boring bureaucratic stuff. ;) $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring Jun 11 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ To create my plot I query Horizons for the 3D position & velocity vectors of the Sun in the SSB frame, and simply reverse those vectors so I can use the Sun as the origin of the plot. $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring Jun 11 at 23:04

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