Robert S. Harrington - The Astronomer in Search of Planet X


Dr. Robert S. Harrington was an American astronomer who worked for many years at the U.S. Naval Observatory. He collaborated with astronomer James W. Christy that led to the 1978 discovery of Pluto's moon Charon. Eventually, he worked his way into what is described in his obituary as an administrative role. Others have referred to him as the Chief Astronomer at the observatory or as the supervising astronomer.

Regardless of his title, after the discovery of Charon, Harrington remained intrigued by perturbations in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. He was considered a world-class expert on planetary motions. Breaking news in The New York Times and The Washington Post in 1983 indicated that an object as large as Jupiter - a massive planet or a brown dwarf star - was pulling on Uranus and Neptune. The Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), it was reported, had captured an image of the object. So clear was the evidence that one IRAS team member stated that, "All that is left is to name it."

Actually, the idea for Planet X had first been proposed by Percival Lowell. Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto, was searching based on Lowell's observations. The search for Pluto was driven by the irregularities in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. For some decades after its discovery in 1930, no one was sure whether Pluto had resolved the issue or not because Pluto's mass could not be determined. With the discovery of Pluto's moon Charon in 1978, Pluto's mass could be determined. It was far too small to account for the orbital disruptions of the gas giant planets.

Oddly, what should have been heralded as one of the greatest astronomical discoveries in history went dark. There was one more mainstream news article appearing in U.S. News and World Report on September 10, 1984 titled "Planet X - Is It Really Out There?" Then silence on the topic.

Harrington was on the IRAS team that made that discovery. He continued be involved in papers written on what was dubbed Planet X throughout the 1980s. He partnered with Tom Van Flandern an astronomer whose Wikipedia biography states, "had a career as a professional scientist, but was noted as an outspoken proponent of non-mainstream views related to astronomy, physics, and extra-terrestrial life." Later he published a paper with P. Kenneth Seidelman titled Planet X - The Current Status (1987).

In 1988, Harrington published a paper titled "The Location of Planet X" that was submitted and published in The Astronomical Journal. In that paper he calculated his best estimate, based on observations of the visible bodies in the solar system, on the location of the proposed Planet X.

In 1990, Harrington met for a videotaped interview with author and researcher Zecharia Sitchin. It was part of television documentary Are We Alone in the Universe? The segments of the two men conversing are pulled together in this video. Sitchin, having heard about Harrington's papers, sent him a copy of his book The 12th Planet. The two compared notes.

It turns out the Harrington's estimations of the planet's potential size and orbit matched quite closely with what Sitchin had gleaned from the ancient Sumerian writings.

Here's where the story turns controversial. Twenty eight months after this nationally televised interview, Dr. Harrington had died at age 50 of a fast-moving esophageal cancer. Many in the paranormal community have claimed for years that his death was mysterious and some have even claimed a kind of remote foul play was involved. Some even claimed the interview with Sitchin condemned him because he was lending scientific credence to the existence of Nibiru.

The question is, why would anyone want to kill a respected astronomer for talking with an author dismissed by the mainstream as a charlatan? If I may propose, the answer to that question is probably answered by the answer to this question. Why has the most important astronomical discovery of modern astronomy silenced by the mainstream media and science for more 35 years?

The IRAS evidence was never reputed. Distinguished astronomers like Harrington continued to work on it for the next decade. How would his death serve anyone's interest?

In addition to the fast-moving cancer, there are other irregularities surrounding his death and the discrediting of his work. Once he was no longer able to speak for himself, others spoke for him and his work was quickly dismissed. Here's how.

Harrington's US Naval Observatory obituary, written by a colleague Charles E. Worley, contains the following statement. 

Considerations on the stability of the solar system led Bob to collaborate with T.C. Van Flandern in studies of the dynamical evolution of its satellites, and to an eventual search for "Planet X", conjectured to lie beyond Pluto and to be responsible for small, unexplained, residuals in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. Late in his career Bob seemed quite skeptical of such an object, however. 

Huh? Where did he write that or say it publicly? Where did he suddenly reverse course on more than 10 years of research into the topic? We have only Worley's statement to corroborate this change of heart. You'll note that Worley died "unexpectedly" four years later at the age of 62.

What of his work and his claim that perturbations in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune caused him to conclude a very specific planet existed in the outer solar system? The belief that led him to share notes with Zecharia Sitchin on national television just 28 months before this passing?

Well, there's an interesting discrepancy around this too. Here is the explanation of how his work was disproved from his Wikipedia page. You'll note that it says that E. Myles Standish adjusted Neptune's mass six months BEFORE Harrington's passing. This negated the scientific grounding for Harrington's claim that there was a Planet X.


However, the mainstream media announcement that the search for Planet X was dead came from Standish and was published in The New York Times in June of 1993 - six months AFTER Harrington's passing. Meaning not six months before Harrington's passing when he might have countered it, but six months after when he was no longer around to counter it. Convenient. The mystery of the body out in the solar system slipped back into the mist. There was a New Scientist article published January 30, 1993 - a week after Harrington's passing - where Standish made his results known within the scientific community. So, Harrington was aware of these results.

The Wikipedia page also states that Harrington had reversed course on Planet X late in his life. The source cited for it? You guessed it. It is the USNO obituary written by Worley. So, in short, there is only hearsay to support the statement that Harrington had changed his mind in the 28 months between talking to Sitchin and his passing. Plus, that same New Scientist article quotes says the following about Harrington and quotes him.

But the negative results do not deter Robert Harrington at the US Naval Observatory in Washington DC, who has long searched for Planet X. ‘It is true that if you put in the new mass of Neptune, some of the key residuals in Uranus do decrease,’ he says. ‘But in my opinion it is not correct to
say that they disappear entirely.’

"Harrington believes Planet X lies in the southern sky but his search has come to a temporary end because he has not won any additional time
on a telescope in the southern hemisphere (and my note - he was dying). ‘There’s certainly good reason to be looking,’ he says. ‘But there’s not good reason to be spending a great quantity of money on the search.’ He adds that he has always put the odds of Planet X’s existence at no better than 50-50.'

Is that the retraction they claim he made late in life? He says the government shouldn't invest a lot of money into it, but he was continuing his own search because he still believed it was there. Only his search was cut short.

In the years since, this idea that there is another large body out in our solar system has come up again and again. Daniel Whitmire and John Matese proposed Tyche. Now we have Planet Nine proposed by a team lead by Mike Brown, who ironically was largely responsible for the demotion of Pluto. 

The idea just won't go away. Yet, the mainstream media and science continue to make it the stuff of conspiracy theories. Why so? What's the danger in talking about this object or demonstrating its existence? That's the $64,000 question, isn't it?

Zecharia Sitchin stated the following in a 1996 interview with ZetaTalk. He and his producer were shocked by what Harrington was willing to say on camera the day they filmed. Did he say too much? Here's Sitchin's recollection.

" there is another fact now where you can refer to the video Are We Alone?, where I interviewed on camera for almost two hours Dr. [Robert] Harrington, who was a top astronomer, I think he was Supervising Astronomer at the United States Naval Observatory, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense, it’s not just a university project, its the DOD, and he was convinced as he said in many lectures or articles, and even radio or tape, that he is right about the search for the planet, and what happened is that at the interview in his office at the U.S. Naval Observatory, we are sitting facing each other across his desk, and one of the producers and the cameraman were like that and he was talking, and neither I nor the producer could believe our ears, because what he was saying was more or less as follows: you are asking me if there is some person called Zecharia Sitchin, we, I don’t know, we cannot tell you for sure but if [there] would be such a person, I would say that he probably has grey hair and he is wearing glasses and he would be living in New York City, I mean, I don’t know if there is such a person but in the meantime he describes the person, so obviously he met me, so he says, I would say, yes, it’s probably 3, 4 times the size of Earth and it could have an atmosphere, it’s a nice planet which has life on it, and he goes on and on and describes a planet that officially doesn’t exist, so we looked at each other and the guy knows all about this planet, and he says, yes, like you said in your book, it comes at 30 degree angle to the ecliptic and it would come, in Biblical times it would come [from] Sagittarius the way you say and now it would be from Libra where we are looking. "

[Note: ZS asked at this point to turn off the recorder and mentioned off-the-record Dr. Harrington’s premature death, the closing down of his station in New Zealand and a lack of cooperation from the USN Observatory since then, implying—but not wanting to go public—that there was a conspiracy.

What is the truth? We may never know. What we do know is that one of the top astronomers in the world, when he could speak for himself, was in general agreement with the ideas put forward by Zecharia Sitchin.

I'll let you determine the significance of that for you.

Ray Davis
for 6 Sense Media