The approach of the dwarf star WD 0810-353 to our solar system has caused excitement. Now researchers are correcting the predicted route.
Armagh – A celestial body advancing towards our solar system and capable of causing great chaos – sounds like a setting from a science fiction novel. But the scenario is real – or at least one research team believed it was real based on their data. In fact, it now turns out that the calculations forgot an important factor. A second research team did the math and now everything works out.
“Have you ever wondered if other stars could come so close to our solar system that they would trigger small bodies in the outer solar system?” asks John Landstreet, an astronomer at Armagh Observatory & Planetarium, in a statement. Landstreet is the lead author of a study that shows this scenario can be ruled out, at least for the white dwarf star WD 0810-353.
White dwarf appears to be heading straight for the solar system
But first, another study showed something opposite: the white dwarf star with the complicated name was apparently heading straight for our solar system, an analysis of data from the “Gaia” mission showed. In about 29 thousand years, the white dwarf should encounter our solar system at a distance of just 31 thousand astronomical units (about 4.65 billion kilometers). For comparison, the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri, is about 4.2 light years away (39.7 trillion kilometers).
For us humans, this is a distant future and an almost unfathomable distance – but from an astronomical point of view, it represents just a brief moment and a small leap. Our solar system was formed about 4.6 billion years ago. And only in five billion years will the Sun turn into a red giant and herald the end of the Earth.
Now, the new study carried out by the Landstreet team and published in the specialized journal shows Astrophysical Journal published, however, something completely different. “We discovered that the approach speed measured by the ‘Gaia’ project is incorrect and the predicted close encounter between WD0810-353 and the Sun will not in fact occur,” explains co-author Stefan Bagnulo. “In fact, WD0810-353 may not even be moving toward the Sun.”
The white dwarf star has a strong magnetic field – this has been forgotten
It seems that the fact that the white dwarf has a strong magnetic field has been forgotten. “In astronomy, magnetic fields are crucial for understanding many physical aspects of a star, and ignoring them can lead to misinterpretations of physical phenomena,” explains astronomer Eva Villaver.
If the star really is 31,000 astronomical units (AU) from our solar system, it would be in the middle of the Oort cloud. This is a region of icy debris that surrounds the solar system at a distance of about 2,000 to 100,000 AU. Long-period comets that take more than 200 years to orbit the Sun likely originate from the Oort cloud.
Star in Oort cloud could push comets towards Earth
The problem: If a star passes through the Oort cloud, it could alter the orbits of icy debris — and, in the worst case, send chunks of rock on a collision course with Earth or other planets in the solar system. However, this is unlikely to happen within the next 29,000 years, the new study shows. Researcher Bagnulo is calm: “This is one less cosmic danger we have to worry about!” (tab)
Machine assistance was used for this article written by the editorial team. The article was carefully checked by editor Tanja Banner before publication.