A new scientific paper warns that a nearby star will pass extremely close to Earth, potentially bombarding the planet with a wave of deadly comets.
Don’t worry, though. It won’t happen for another million years.
Gliese 710, a star with about 60 percent of the sun’s mass, is still 64 light years away from Earth. But that distance is closing rapidly (in cosmic terms), and it’s believed Gliese will make its closest approach in about 1.35 million years. Now, a paper in the scientific journal Astronomy and Physics estimates Gliese will come within 0.2 light years of the Sun at its closest point, more than five times closer than previous estimates. At that distance, it will be one of the brightest objects in the night sky, comparable to the planets Jupiter and Mars at their brightest.
That distance is still 1.2 trillion miles, more than 340 times the average distance from the Sun to Pluto; it will take 77 days for Gliese’s light to reach Earth. Still, even at that distance, Gliese will be well within the Oort Cloud, the vast cloud with billions of icy and rocky objects believed to be orbiting the Sun just beyond the solar system. (RELATED: Safe Space Movement Breaks Into Astronomy)
Because of Gliese’s large size, its proximity will exert a strong gravitational effect on the Oort cloud, destabilizing the orbits of millions of comets and potentially sending them into the inner solar system. Many of those comets could go on a collision course with Earth; if any are large enough they could trigger an extinction event, much like the impact that is believed to have killed off the dinosaurs.
“[This] event [will be] the strongest disrupting encounter in the future and history of the solar system,” the authors of the paper state.
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