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End of the world: Humans could be killed off by hail of comets from passing stars

Nearby stars could fling comets at Earth, bringing life to an end — if we’re still here

Andrew Griffin
Monday 05 January 2015 17:08 GMT
In this composition image from Nasa, Comet Ison (bottom right) moves towards the sun
In this composition image from Nasa, Comet Ison (bottom right) moves towards the sun (NASA//AFP/Getty Images)

Humans could be wiped out by two dwarf stars that will drop a torrent of comets onto Earth, according to a new theory.

If the comets do kill of humans, it could mean that we are wiped out ahead of the the normally expected ways — an asteroid crashing into us or the death of the sun.

A number of stars could come close to our sun in the next few million years, according to estimates by CAL Bailer Jones at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. If they did so, their gravity could pick up one of the many comets in the Oort cloud, a region in space full of icy objects, and throw one towards Earth.

The star most likely to hit us is called Hip 85605, which has a 90% chance of coming nearer than 0.65 light years from us. Another, known as GL 710, also has a good chance of passing near enough by to upset the Oort cloud and throw down the comets that could bring life on earth to an end.

But it’s not set to happen for millions of years, by which time there might be nothing left to destroy anyway. Hip 85605 is not set to show up for as long as half a million years, and GL 710 could take nearly three times as long.

While Bailer-Jones believes there to be a high chance of such an event happening, the data could be unreliable, he said.

The estimates use information from the European Space Agency’s Hipparcos spacecraft, which assembled its star data in the 1990s, according to the New Scientist. The follow-up spacecraft should enable us to get a new starmap and be able to work out the possibility of such an event with more accuracy.

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