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Ancient stellar flyby reshaped the outer Solar System

9 Aug 2018, 13:07 UTC
Ancient stellar flyby reshaped the outer Solar System
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Artist’s concept of a Solar System in the making with a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young star. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Solar System was formed from a protoplanetary disk consisting of gas and dust. Since the cumulative mass of all objects beyond Neptune is much smaller than expected and the bodies there have mostly inclined, eccentric orbits it is likely that some process restructured the outer Solar System after its formation. Susanne Pfalzner from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and her colleagues present a study showing that a close fly-by of a neighbouring star can simultaneously lead to the observed lower mass density in the outer part of the Solar System and excite the bodies there onto eccentric, inclined orbits. Their numerical simulations show that many additional bodies at high inclinations still await discovery, perhaps including a sometimes postulated planet X.
A near catastrophe billions of years ago might have shaped the outer parts of the Solar System, while leaving the inner regions basically untouched. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn and their collaborators found that a close fly-by of another star can explain many of the features observed in ...

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