Scientists have discovered that an alien red dwarf star buzzed the outer solar system 70,000 years ago, coming just 0.8 light-years away from the Sun. No need to worry about that particular star, it’s now heading away from the sun, already 20 light years away, but researchers are still on the lookout for any other future stellar encounter.
According to Time Magazine, the star is called Scholz’s Star, named after its discoverer Ralf-Dieter Scholz in Germany. The researchers say that it came closer than any other star to our sun, as far they know.
It wasn’t alone either.
The red dwarf star was accompanied by a brown dwarf. Both of the stars are tiny compared to the size of the sun, but they still likely caused some damage.
BBC News reports the astronomers are 98 percent sure the two stars hit the Oort Cloud, a distant field of comets and other debris that surrounds the solar system. Head astronomer Eric Mamajek explained its more than likely there were a number of collisions in the close encounter.
“There are trillions of comets in the Oort cloud and likely some of them were perturbed by this object. But so far it seems unlikely that this star actually triggered a significant ‘comet shower’.”
It’s lucky for us a “significant” comet shower didn’t occur, if it did, the planets of the inner solar system would be at risk.
Although the red dwarf was tiny in size (for a star) and 50 times dimmer than our sun, it is highly magnetic according to Discovery News. Meaning that our ancestors would have been treated to an occasional light show as the star passed by.
The Scholz’s star would have had periodic “flaring events” that would increase its brightness 1000 times, causing the night sky to light up for up to a couple of hours.
Scientists are continuing to look for other flyby events our solar system may have had in the past (or possibly will have in the future). But more than that, astronomers are looking for evidence that our sun has a companion star of its own.
The hypothetical star is called Nemesis, and some believe it caused Earth’s greatest extinctions.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the hypothesis is that the Sun has a much smaller, much dimmer companion star in a distant orbit. Every 27 million or so years, that “Nemesis” star enter’s the Sun’s Oort Cloud, sending comets hurtling through the solar system.
The Nemesis hypothesis was thought up as a way to explain Earth’s periodic extinction events, like the one that destroyed the dinosaurs.
To better understand stars and their possible trajectories toward the solar system, the ESA recently launched the European Gaia mission.
[Image Credit: NASA/D. Aguilar]