I got a new piece of astronomy software the other day, letting me run simulations according to the laws of physics, however implausible the scenario. I thought it might be fun to see what would happen if a rogue orange-tinted dwarf star – smaller than the average star, but not excessively so – was cut loose on a four-year orbit through the inner solar system.
See what I mean about implausible? I called it the Tangerine Peril because I figured it would imperil the whole solar system. Here’s the setup:
During its first four-year orbit, the Tangerine Peril crashed past Mars (of which the Moon is apparently a part) and swung it into a different orbit:
Along the way Earth was boosted into a different orbit, with apehelion – the furthest point from the Sun – twice what it is now. The trail behind the Sun, incidentally, reflects the fact that the solar system’s centre of mass (barycentre) was shifted well outside the surface of the Sun; and the Sun was moving around it, dragging everything along:
Mars (of which the Moon is a part) got a second pasting from the Peril at apehelion. Boom. Should that be ‘Barsoom’? Maybe I should tweet on that.
The close encounter with the Peril sent Mars careering into a cometary orbit that skimmed past the Sun and sent the unfortunate Red Planet hurtling into interstellar space where it was going to cool down faster than a fast-food order, if that is possible.
The thing was that the Tangerine Peril was on a four-year orbit, meaning it inevitably came around for another go. On its second reign of chaos, starting in 2020 according to the simulation, the Peril came close to Earth, risking a bout of global warming:
Luckily that didn’t happen. Instead, the close encounter imparted enough velocity to Earth to fling us out of the solar system. According to the simulation it took some time for Earth’s atmosphere to freeze – the oceans are a good moderator. But freeze it eventually did. One cure for global warming, I suppose. Has anybody read ‘A Pail of Air’ by Fritz Lieber?
I was going to stop the simulation after it had run two four-year orbits, but I let it rip. And by 2048 the Tangerine Peril had destroyed the solar system:
Clearly a simulation of significant gravity, shall we say.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019