Scientists have warned that if a transiting star moved Neptune’s orbit by just 0.1 percent, the resulting chaos could cause other planets in our solar system to collide.
Research presented in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Societysuggests that “stellar flyby” – a relatively common event in the universe – could be enough to send other planets to each other.
It’s possible that if Mercury and Jupiter’s perihelion – the point at which the planets reach the closest to the Sun – coincide, two possibilities could occur. Mercury can be pulled out of its orbit and either shoot out of the solar system or head on a collision course with Venus, the Sun, or Earth.
These changes will occur over millions of years, but researchers have simulated the situation about 3,000 times.
In nearly 2,000 of them, 26 ended up smashing the planets together, expelling Uranus, Neptune, or Mercury from the solar system altogether.
“The full extent to which asterism plays an important role in the evolution of planetary systems remains an active area of research. For planetary systems that form in a star cluster, the consensus is that stellar flight plays an important role while the planetary system remains within the star cluster,” Garrett Brown, graduate student in Computational Physics from the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences (PES) at the University of Toronto, for Universe Today.
“This is usually the first 100 million years of planetary evolution. After the star cluster dissipates, the incidence of star fly decreases dramatically, reducing its role in the evolution of planetary systems.”
Moreover, given that it is likely that the Sun will expand and engulf the planet within five billion years, the possibility that this will disrupt our experience in the solar system “is not an issue we should be concerned about,” Brown said.
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