An international group of astronomers found that a dim star known as a red dwarf skimmed through the outskirts of our solar system, coming within 8 trillion kilometers of Earth some 70,000 years ago. Eric Mamajek talks about this amazing discovery on today’s “One on One” segment.
The red dwarf star, which has a mass about 8% that of the Sun and is orbited by a ‘brown dwarf’ companion, was discovered in 2013 in images recorded by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. It is relatively nearby, at about 6 parsecs (19.6 light years) away.
In the paper, astronomers led by Eric Mamajek at the University of Rochester, New York, say they are 98% certain that Scholz’s star travelled through what is known as the “outer Oort Cloud” – a region at the edge of the Solar System filled with trillions of comets a mile or more across.
Astronomers say a red dwarf star and its brown dwarf companion passed within a light-year of our own sun 70,000 years ago, moving through the comets in the outer reaches of the Oort Cloud that surrounds our solar system.
Close encounters of the starry kind: Red dwarf passed within just 0.8 light years of our solar system
Dr Eric Mamajek, an astronomer at the University of Rochester who led the study, said that it is unlikely the star would have caused much disturbance to the scattered icy comets that orbit the outermost reaches of our solar system.
“Simulated molecular clouds are beautiful, intricate, and ever-changing — properties that make them ideal candidates for high-powered visualization,” wrote PhD student Erica Kaminski about her award-winning images.