The Solar System will disappear much sooner than previously thought

NEW simulations by astrophysicists have revealed that the Solar System will totally disappear much sooner than previously thought.

For centuries, scientists have tried to figure out when the solar system will come to an end, and new simulations show it will happen even before the death of the Sun.

Astronomers Jon Zink, from the University of California; Konstantin Batygin of Caltech and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan have published an article in The Astronomical Journal in which they present their new estimations.

In 1999, astronomers predicted that the Solar System would slowly crumble over a period of at least a trillion years , based on the time it would take for the orbital resonances of Jupiter and Saturn to uncouple Uranus. However, Fink and his team now say that these calculations missed out some important influencers that could cause alterations to the Solar System earlier.

As they explain in their article, which has been published in Science Alert, in about 5,000 million years, the Sun will first become a red giant star , which will trap Mercury, Venus and the Earth. Then it will eject almost half of its mass into space, and the remaining white dwarf will be 54 per cent of the mass of the current Sun. Losing mass will also alter the Sun’s gravitational control over the remaining planets, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

The second factor to take into account, the researchers explain, is that approximately once every 23 million years, other stars should get close enough to the solar system to disturb the orbits of the planets. “By taking into account the loss of stellar mass and the inflation of the orbits of the outer planets, these encounters will be more influential” they say.

Over time, astronomers continue, some of these stars “will get close enough to dissociate or destabilize the remaining planets.”

Fink’s team took these additional influencers into account in their calculations to run up to 10 simulations, divided into two phases: until the end of the Sun’s mass loss and the subsequent phase.

In the first phase , once the Sun becomes a white dwarf, the more distant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn will see their orbit enlarged, although they will remain relatively stable, so that for every five times that Jupiter completes one circuit around the Sun, Saturn will do it twice. However, the expansion of the orbits will make the system more susceptible to disturbances from stars that pass closer.

Therefore, 30,000 million years later, these stellar disturbances will create chaos in the orbits of the planets, which, except for one, will turn into rogue planets roaming the galaxy, the scientists explain in the article.

That last lonely planet will remain in orbit for another 50 billion years, but over time it will also be influenced by the gravity of other stars and will move out of the Sun’s orbit. Ultimately, the authors note, after the Sun has become a white dwarf, the Solar System will no longer exist.

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Jennifer Leighfield

Jennifer Leighfield, born in Salisbury, UK; resident in Malaga, Spain since 1989. Degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, French and English from Malaga University (2005), specialising in Crime, Forensic Medicine and Genetics. Published translations include three books by Richard Handscombe. Worked with Euro Weekly News since November 2006. Well-travelled throughout Spain and the rest of the world, fan of Harry Potter and most things ‘geek’.