Stellar Astrometry

A star passing close to the solar system

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Science  16 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6318, pp. 1388
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6318.1388-a

Many new comets could be produced by the passage of the small star Gliese 710 through the Oort Cloud.

PHOTO: WILLIAM ATTARD MCCARTHY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

The Gaia astrometry satellite has greatly improved measurements of the position and motion of nearby stars. Berski and Dybczyński searched the Gaia data for the star that will pass closest to the Sun. They found that Gliese 710, a small faint star, will pass within 13,000 ± 6,000 astronomical units (one astronomical unit is roughly the distance from Earth to the Sun). That will be well within the Oort Cloud, a collection of small bodies on the outskirts of our solar system. Some of those bodies will be knocked inward, generating large numbers of new comets. Earth is safe for now, though; the encounter will happen in 1.3 million years.

Astron. Astrophys. 595, L10 (2016).

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