Suppose a star gets too close to Neptune during a “stellar flyby” and tilts its axis by 0.1%. According to Garrett Brown and Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto, it could destabilize the entire solar system.
Brown and Rein explain their findings in a research paper, “On the Long-Term Stability of the Solar System in the Presence of Weak Interstellar Flyby Disturbances.”
“We found that small perturbations in the orbits of the outer planets are transmitted between planets, increasing the likelihood that the inner planetary system will destabilize,” the paper says.
According to research, Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System, and changes in its orbit could have severe consequences for the inner planets, including Earth.
There is also the possibility that if the points at which Mercury and Jupiter approach the Sun fall in sync with each other, Mercury could be pulled out of its orbit and ejected from the Solar System entirely, the researchers wrote. The planet could be on a collision course with Venus, the Sun, or Earth.
As part of the research, nearly 3,000 simulations of an interstellar flyby that occur in a random orbit around the Sun were performed, 26 of which ended in instability, including 20 that resulted in collisions between Mercury and Venus and one collision between Earth and Mars. In the simulations, changes occur over several million years.
In remarks to Universe Today, Brown said the chance of a stellar flyby damaging the order of the Solar System would be unlikely given its rarity.