If you’ve always wanted to take in a double sunset just like Luke Skywalker did from Tatooine, you still won’t, but it could actually happen in just over a million years.
Alien stars don’t often invade our solar system. The sun is used to getting its personal space, and with Alpha Centauri 25 trillion miles away (which is nothing in cosmic terms but staggering to us), it’s not easily disturbed. That will all change 1.3 million years from now when the star Gliese 710 comes whizzing through our solar system’s outer limits.
Scientists have been illuminated about this stellar phenomenon for a while, but ESA’s Gaia satellite recently beamed back observations that have narrowed down the star’s trajectory and mapped out nearly 100 more impending encounters. Gaia predicted that Gliese 710 will shoot through interstellar space and into the Oort cloud, an enormous expanse of icy fragments and planetesimals 1.4 trillion miles away at the edge of our solar system.
Even though the star will be 16,000 times farther from the sun than Earth, that’s still invading the sun’s personal space big time. Not to mention outshining it. Gliese 710 is expected to blaze with three times the brightness of Mars in our planet’s skies. Besides burning so brightly, it could also fire comets and frozen objects from the Oort cloud towards Earth, and you only need one deadly impact to send us the way of the dinosaurs. There are even controversial theories that suggest encounters with “death stars” that ended up being too close could have caused mass extinctions.
Gaia has been star-stalking since 2013. The satellite has calculated the motions, magnitudes, positions and parallaxes of millions of stars and used this galaxy of data to plot the trajectories of 300,000 of those celestial fireballs over the next five million years. 97 of these stars are predicted to come within a 93 trillion-mile radius of the sun. 13 will supposedly have an impact on the solar system when they dare to breach a radius of 37 trillion miles. Their mass and velocity determine their potential for disruption.
The last time another star came too close to the Sun was 70,000 years ago, when an uninvited dwarf star flew by the Oort Cloud during a time when volcanic eruptions were already wiping out our early ancestors. We’re still here, so there’s at least one reason those extinction theories could eventually burn out.
So we’ll never get a Tatooine view, but at least we have about a million years to figure out what to do when Gliese 710 trespasses onto the sun’s territory.