Star Hurtling Toward Earth Could Unleash Destructive Comet Swarm, Scientists Warn

An imminent impact by a massive asteroid or comet would be disquieting news, to say the least, but there is a star that is presently moving through space and is headed on a collision course with the solar system, scientists have concluded. A recent study has revealed that the star, Gliese 710, will pass even closer than astronomers had previously thought. And in its passing, the wayward star is now expected to disrupt objects in the Oort Cloud, which could send a destructive shower of comets raining down on the Earth.

The Daily Mail reported this week that scientists Filip Berski and Piotr Dybczński, from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, have co-authored a study wherein they have outlined the path of Gliese 710, a star currently located in the constellation of Serpens Cauda (the “Serpent’s Tail”), as it hurtles toward the solar system. Their findings, which were derived from data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Gaia observatory, posits that the star, a main sequence entity about 60 percent the mass of the sun, that astronomers have known for a while is traveling toward Earth, and will pass roughly five times closer than previously thought.

The bad news that accompanies the projected path of Gliese 710, is that it will likely make a fly-by through the far reaches of the solar system, the orbital territory of icy objects and long-period comets called the Oort Cloud. Berski and Dybczński postulate that the gravitational pull of such a large object will likely produce a disruptive effect on the Oort Cloud, consuming some objects as it propels and slingshots others in all manner of directions. Of particular interest to the Earth, though, is the possible swarm of comets the star’s gravity might send on a trajectory that could ultimately result in multiple comet strikes on our home planet.

comets closing in on earth
A future passing star, Gliese 710, could potentially send a swarm of comets toward the inner Solar System to bombard the Earth. [Image by Gunnar Assmy/Shutterstock]

If that reads like a doomsday scenario, it very well could be, given what is known about the dangers of a possible unmitigated comet strike. As the Inquisitr reported recently, comets are, on average, larger than asteroids and pose far more risk due to their velocity and the elliptical trajectory at which they would make impact with the Earth.

Although more dangerous and less likely to be detected early than other objects, like asteroids, NASA scientist Joseph Nuth has cautioned that humanity should begin considering an effective defense system to deflect and/or destroy large hazardous asteroids and comets before the planet is faced with an imminent catastrophic, perhaps even an extinction level event strike that cannot be mitigated.

a comet impacts the earth
It is feared that a comet strike might be more destructive than a direct asteroid impact. [Image by puchan/Thinkstock/Getty Images]

Gliese 710 is expected to come within 1.2 trillion miles of Earth. When it does, the star will be the fastest — and brightest — object in the night sky, Berski and Dybczński argue.

To compare, the Alpha Centauri star system, the closest to the solar system, is 25.67 trillion miles from our sun. On a closer note, the dwarf planet Pluto is 3.67 billion miles from the sun, or about 327 times closer than the traveling star will likely get.

But that is still close enough for Gliese 710 to have a tremendous effect as it makes its way through the outer limits of the solar system and, at worst, unleash a potentially destructive bombardment of long-period comets on the Earth.

The good news in this doomsday scenario is that the star, though getting closer by the second on its journey through interstellar space, is not expected to pass by for another 1.35 million years.

That should give the denizens of Earth plenty of time to construct and deploy adequate defense measures to thwart any catastrophic comet strike created by a passing star.

[Featured Image by argus/Shutterstock]