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Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Heavy stellar traffic, deflected comets, and a closer look at the triggers of cosmic disaster

31 Aug 2017, 08:00 UTC
Heavy stellar traffic, deflected comets, and a closer look at the triggers of cosmic disaster TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO

As stars pass close by our solar system, they can nudge comets from the distant Oort cloud into the inner regions around the Sun. Thus, stellar encounters are an important factor in determining the risk of large cosmic impacts on Earth. Now, Coryn Bailer-Jones from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has used data from the ESA satellite Gaia to give the first systematic estimate of the rate of such close stellar encounters. Every million years, up to two dozen stars pass within a few light-years of the Sun, making for a near-constant state of perturbation. The results have been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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