In 1.35 million years, a star is going to pass near our Solar System, potentially sending a swarm of comets our way. And a new study published in Astronomy & Astrophysics has claimed this star may come even closer than thought.
The star is called Gliese 710, which is about half the size of our Sun, and it is currently 64 light-years from Earth. But it is heading towards us in the galaxy, and at its closest approach it’ll be just 77 light-days away, or 13,365 AU (1 AU is the distance from Earth to the Sun). According to the study, by astronomers Filip Berski and Piotr A. Dybczyński from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, this is five times closer than previously estimated.
The new calculations were made using the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia space observatory, which is currently mapping every star in the Milky Way.
This might seem far, but it’s within a shell of comets that surrounds our Solar System, called the Oort Cloud, which extends anywhere from 5,000 to 200,000 AU. It’s likely, therefore, that this star will disrupt these comets, possibly sending some our way.
“Gliese 710 will trigger an observable cometary shower with a mean density of approximately ten comets per year, lasting for three to four million years,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“From our calculations we can expect that this star will have the strongest influence on the Oort Cloud objects in the next ten million years, and even in the last several million years there has not been any such important object near the Sun.”
What impact this event will have on the Solar System isn’t clear. For any humans still around, they may notice another comet or two, although Jupiter normally does a good job of sweeping them up. This isn’t the only star that will come this close, though – Gizmodo notes that there are up to 14 others that could come within 3 light-years in the next few million years.
If one does come our way, hopefully we’ll have found a way to deflect it by then.