Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it...........possibly

Well the clock is running and a deadline set for an Orange Dwarf Star to smash into the solar system.

But it's okay--we have about 1.5 million years... so even Gordon Brown might be able to save us by then (possibly not this is Labour we're talking about)

A new set of star velocity data indicates that Gliese 710 has an 86 percent chance of ploughing into the Solar System within the next 1.5 million years.

The Solar System is surrounded by thousands of stars, but until recently it wasn't at all clear where they were all heading.

In 1997, however, astronomers published the Hipparcos Catalogue giving detailed position and velocity measurements of some 100,000 stars in our neighbourhood, all gathered by the European Space Agency's Hipparcos spacecraft. It's fair to say that the Hipparcos data has revolutionised our understanding of the 'hood.

In particular, this data allowed astronomers to work out which stars we'd been closer to in the past and which we will meet in the future. It turns out that 156 stars fall into this category and that the Sun has a close encounter with another star (meaning an approach within 1 parsec) every 2 million years or so.

In 2007, however, the Hipparcos data was revised and other measurements of star velocities have since become available. How do these numbers change the figures?

Today, Vadim Bobylev at the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg gives us the answer. He's combined the Hipparcos data with several new databases and found an additional nine stars that have either had a close encounter with the Sun or are going to.

But he's also made a spectacular prediction. The original Hipparcos data showed that an orange dwarf star called Gliese 710 is heading our way and will arrive sometime within the next 1.5 million years.

Of course, trajectories are difficult to calculate when the data is poor so nobody has really been sure about what's going to happen.

What the new data has allowed Bobylev to do is calculate the probability of Gliese 710 smashing into the Solar System. What he's found is a shock.

He says there is 86 percent chance that Gliese 710 will plough through the Oort Cloud of frozen stuff that extends some 0.5 parsecs into space.

That may sound like a graze but it is likely to have serious consequences. Such an approach would send an almighty shower of comets into the Solar System which will force us to keep our heads down for a while. And a probability of 86 percent is about as close to certainty as this kind of data can get.

The good news is that Bobylev says the chances of Gliese 710 penetrating further into the Solar System, inside the Kuiper Belt, are much smaller, just 1 in a 1000. So that's all right, then.

Keep calm and carry on.
Yay comets. Hopefully by then, if humanity is still around, they'll have the technology to move them around then again I suspect that if we haven't reached that level of tech in a million and change years, it will indeed be because we are not around.

I plan to still be around to see this. I'm not sure how, but it will happen. 

8 annotations:

Anonymous said...

Is this what's driving global climate warming change?

John M Ward said...

The future's bright. The future's an Orange star...

scunnert said...

See ya then.

Barking Spider said...

No problem, QM, a time machine should do the trick....when they invent one!

Furor Teutonicus said...

I plan to still be around to see this. I'm not sure how,

Become a Buddhist?

James Higham said...

Labour will have destroyed civilization as we know it by then.

Furor Teutonicus said...

What do you mean "WILL". From what I read on blogs, they already HAVE.

I am Stan said...

21/12/2012 the earth will move into its fifth cycle,expect massive upheaval and change....