Among the many theories about how the Earth will come to an end, few had considered the passage of a star that would throw the planets into chaos.
Although we wake up every day with the certainty of life, the reality is that we depend on a nature that until now has been in balance.
The cosmos may look like a quiet place without much activity, but at every moment, there is something out there that ends up being born, developing, colliding, or dying. The best example of this is the white dwarf that is now devouring its solar system completely.
Taking this into account, some researchers decided to analyze the ease with which the tranquility of the cosmic balance could be destroyed. Specifically with what would happen if a star slightly moved a planet’s orbit in our Solar System.
According to research developed by astrophysicist Garett Brown, the long-term stability of the Solar System could be at risk from even the slightest stellar flyby disturbance. This means that any stellar encounter, such as a passing comet or asteroid, could influence the motion of planetary systems.
The simulation performed by Brown included testing minimal perturbations on the planets of the solar system. First, the case of Mercury, the smallest planet, that records a motion at its perihelion of 1.5 degrees every 1,000 years, was considered.
If Mercury’s perihelion is synchronized with that of Jupiter, with which it shares a very close rate, the chances of Mercury breaking out of its orbit and being ejected from the Solar System to impact with Venus increase.
However, the chances remain at 1%, which does not represent such a disturbing risk to civilization on Earth. For Neptune, however, the odds increase dramatically and dangerously.
Mercury could go unnoticed if a star, comet, or asteroid decides to come close. But, in the case of Neptune, it would require only a 0.1% perturbation (4.5 million km) to leave its orbit.
That is to say that slight friction at that distance and the semi-major axis of Neptune could trigger an imbalance in the rest of the planets, even reaching the Earth and Mars in about 20 million years.
Only if the perturbation increases to 5% or 10%, then we are talking about a catastrophe for the Earth in much less time. Thanks to the 2,880 simulations of the research team, it is known that at least 26 could end in extensive chaos for the solar system. There would be collisions between Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, and possibly Uranus and Neptune would be ejected completely. Fortunately, not only the risks of imbalance that a stellar trip could cause were measured.
The possibility of detecting stars that come close enough to cause these scenarios was also analyzed. This statistic is where we can find peace of mind since there are only 20 possibilities in the next 100 billion years. So we will have to consider that if something can interfere in the orbits of the planets, in any case, it would be something coming from the interior of the solar system.
Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera.