COMETS are being thrown into the midst of the solar system by nearby stars, scientists have revealed in an astronomical first.
Scientists have discovered that nearby stars can have such a dramatic impact on our solar system that they can fling objects from the Oort Cloud through the alignment of plants and the sun. The Oort Cloud is a cloud on the edge of our solar system, past the orbit of Neptune some 9.23 trillion miles (14.9 trillion kilometres) from the sun, which contains billions of icy objects such as comets. Objects in the Oort Cloud have such a vast distance to travel that it can take up to 2,500 years to complete just one orbit of the sun.
They are also so far out they can be influenced by nearby stars, a new study has revealed.
Research published in the online journal arXiv from a team of Polish researchers found that stars which come within a 12 light-year radius of the Oort Cloud can shove objects out of their position and send them through the solar system.
In a sample of 277 comets, only two were found to have been influenced by passing stars – of which there are 10 within a 12 light-year radius of the sun – according to the researchers.
While it is a rare phenomenon, the study confirms how our solar system is being influenced by other stellar objects.
The team wrote: “Having the list of perturbers completed we studied their influence on a sample of 277 Oort spike comets that were observed since 1901 and discovered that two comets might have their orbits fundamentally changed due to a close stellar encounter.
“Uncertainties both in stellar and cometary data were carefully taken into account. Our analysis indicates that the occurrence of stellar perturbations on cometary motions is very rare and the uncertainties of these effects are hard to estimate.”
Lead study author Rita Wysoczańska, an astronomer at the Institute Astronomical Observatory at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, told Live Science: “In our study, we discovered only two cases in which this actually happened, and yet, we observe dozens of comets every year.
“At this moment, we can say that the mechanism proposed by Oort is not sufficient enough to generate all comets we observe.”
Previous research from a scientist involved in the study, Piotr A Dybczyński, found that a dwarf star known as Gliese 710 is hurtling through the universe and will one day reach the Oort Cloud.
When it does hit the Oort Cloud, in a predicted 1.29 million years, it will ruin the interplanetary disk, wreaking havoc throughout the solar system.
Some astronomers have speculated that a star passing through the Oort Cloud roughly 65 million years ago projected an asteroid in the direction of Earth which ultimately led to the demise of the dinosaurs.
The previous research from Filip Berski and Dybczyński read: “Gliese 710 will trigger an observable cometary shower with a mean density of approximately ten comets per year, lasting for three to 4 million years.”