Astronomers see stars slinging comets at Earth for the first time

Posted: December 2, 2019 by oldbrew in Astronomy, Celestial Mechanics, solar system dynamics

The distance from the Oort cloud to the interior of the Solar System, and two of the nearest stars, is measured in astronomical units. The scale is logarithmic; each indicated distance is ten times farther out than the previous distance. The red arrow indicates the location of the space probe Voyager 1, which will reach the Oort cloud in about 300 years [credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech]

Note that the Oort Cloud referred to in the article, although often discussed as though it exists, has to date never been directly observed, perhaps due to its supposed great distance from Earth.
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Stars and comets make unlikely dance partners, says Live Science.

Their gravitational partnership is one that astronomers have long suspected but have never seen — until now. For the first time, a Polish group has identified two nearby stars that seem to have plucked up their icy partners, swinging them into orbits around our sun.

The astronomers found the stellar duo after studying the movements of over 600 stars that came within 13 light-years of the sun. The new findings validate a theory born more than a half-century ago, and in doing so have also shown just how rare these stellar dances can be.

Out on the far edge of the solar system, hanging like wallflowers around the planetary dance floor, is the Oort Cloud.

This icy group of objects were left over after the formation of the solar system, creating a giant shell enveloping our home system that extends from 66 times the distance to Neptune to 9.23 trillion miles (14.9 trillion kilometers) away from the sun.

Astronomers think the Oort Cloud is a reservoir for long-period comets — those that take more than 200 years to orbit the sun. Comet Hale-Bopp, which has a 2,500-year orbit, is one of the most famous of these long-period comets.

Since the cloud’s existence was first proposed by Jan Oort in the 1950s, astronomers have suspected that every so often, a passing star might be able to pick up an object and send it swinging on a wild ride through our solar system; that ride would bring some of those comets streaming through the night sky for us to marvel at.

Astronomers have spent years trying to find proof of these stellar dances, but none had been conclusively shown until now.

A new paper, accepted for publication in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and published on the preprint database arXiv, describes how astronomers calculated the paths of nearly 650 stars, which they compared with the orbits of over 270 long-period comets.

The study used a catalogue from the Gaia spacecraft, which has measurements for some 1.7 billion astronomical objects, along with surveys like Pan-STARRS, which looks for asteroids, comets and other small bodies in our solar system.

They created models for the star-comet pairs to rewind and replay their history. The astronomers then would “remove” a star from their model to see if that significantly changed the partner comet’s orbit. If it did, the astronomers would know that the stars had tangoed with the comets.

“In our study, we discovered only two cases in which this actually happened, and yet, we observe dozens of comets every year,” lead study author Rita Wysoczańska, an astronomer at the Institute Astronomical Observatory at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, told Live Science. “At this moment, we can say that the mechanism proposed by Oort is not sufficient enough to generate all comets we observe.”

It’s likely that the collective gravitational force of more distant stars can boost comets into long-period orbits. And once a comet enters the solar system, it can be further perturbed by the planets therein.

Full article here.

  1. JB says:

    Assuming nothing in reality changed things not represented in the model.

  2. Chaswarnertoo says:

    So the stars are trying to kill us, oh goody…..

  3. Tom Abbott says:

    In densely packed star clusters there must be all sorts of stuff flying around! 🙂

  4. ivan says:

    Scientists of today really love computer models especially when they have an idea they are nor sure of – after all anything can be ‘proved’ by a model, just ask a climate scientist.

    Sorry but I don’t put much store in unvalidated computer models especially when they talk about something that has not been proved to exist.

  5. Gamecock says:

    Sorries. I need more convincing that gravity from a star 25,000,000,000,000,000 miles away is nudging anything.

  6. oldbrew says:

    How a Meteorite Ruined an Alabama Woman’s Afternoon 65 Years Ago

    Sixty-five years ago, a few days after Thanksgiving, Ann Hodges was snuggled up on the sofa in her Alabama home when a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite crashed through the ceiling and struck the left side of her body. Not the best interruption to the holiday season.

    The cosmic event, which took place on Nov. 30, 1954, was the first known reported instance of a human being struck by a meteorite and suffering an injury. The softball-size space rock, weighing about 8.5 lbs. (3.8 kilograms), burst through the roof of Hodges’ house in Sylacauga at 2:46 p.m. local time, bouncing off a large radio console before striking her and leaving a large, dark bruise.

    1 min. video:

  7. Gamecock says:

    Here we go again!: She was hit by a METEOR. It wasn’t a meteorite until it came to rest.

    “4.5-billion-year-old meteorite” “struck the left side of her body”

    No. It has been a meteorite for 65 years. A little short of 4.5 billion.

  8. oldbrew says:

    US meteorite adds to origins mystery
    5 December 2019

    Dr Brown and his colleagues gathered information from fireball surveys as well as videos posted on social media to reconstruct a potential orbit for the Hamburg meteorite, named after the small Detroit suburb it buzzed.

    The team then worked with several of the amateur photographers to calibrate their observations. “We spent a lot of time scouring YouTube and Twitter,” he says.

    The researchers found that the Hamburg meteorite was a fairly typical fireball. It likely entered the atmosphere with a mass ranging from 60kg to 220kg and a diameter between 0.3m and 0.5m.

    Travelling at about 16 km/s, it produced two major flares at 24.1km and 21.7km above the ground. The total energy produced by the fireball equalled somewhere between two and seven tonnes of TNT.