Standing on a
strikingly more primitive version of our world, looking up at the night sky as
a bright red-light bursts to life. What goes through our ancestors’ minds? Do
they think it’s the work of primordial gods?
Is it a sign of
The crimson light-show is brief, but even with its passing into the depths of space, its effects may be felt even today.
last decade or so has been filled with unfounded conspiracy theories of rogue
planets and stars smashing through our cosmic backyard like celestial wrecking balls,
but what if such a star DID at one point come close to our parent star? That’s
exactly what scientists at the University of Madrid and the University of
Cambridge think may have happened 70,000 years ago.
A 2015 study suggests that a nearby red dwarf may have come
as close as the Oort cloud and disturbed many asteroids and comets in the process
(among other objects), making our solar neighborhood a bit more chaotic, to say
Last year, two astronomers from the Complutense University
of Madrid, brothers Carlos and Raul de la Fuente Marcos, together with researcher
Sverre J. Aarseth of the University of Cambridge (in the UK), have analyzed close to 340 objects in our solar backyard,
and what they’ve found is striking.
simulations we have calculated the radiants or positions in the sky from which
all these hyperbolic objects seem to come,” explains Carlos de la Fuente
“In principle,” Marcos continues, “one would
expect those positions to be evenly distributed in the sky, particularly if
these objects come from the Oort cloud; however, what we find is very
different: a statistically significant accumulation of radiants. The pronounced
over-density appears projected in the direction of the constellation of Gemini,
which fits the close encounter with Scholz´s star.”
Scholz’ Star, the red dwarf in question is now 20 light
years away from our sun, but 70,000 years ago, some scientists believe that its
orbit would put it very close to our system, coming within 1 light year of the
sun. That may not seem like much, but it may explain why some objects in our solar
system appear to have a sharp V in their orbits, rather than the typical elliptical
orbital paths we tend to see.
Red dwarf stars are typically pretty dim, so any hominids gazing
up at the night sky would only see it if it flared (which red dwarfs have a tendency
to do often, they’re very active).