Mar 19, 2010

Sedna and Nemesis

I've got a much longer post about Space stewing in my draft pile. It's all about our Solar System, our Galaxy, other galaxies and the universe. Not sure where I'm going with it or if it's even interesting enough for me to post, but it sits there. Taunting me.

Meanwhile, I was reading about Sedna the other day and it kept me up all night.  You see the basic structure of our solar system is the Sun (that's the big yellow one), some planets, (and their satellites) an asteroid belt, some more planets (and their satellites), some dwarf planets and something called the Oort cloud.  A hypothetical ring of Killer Comets that lies around one quarter of the way between our Sun and the next nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

Sedna is one of those dwarf planets I mentioned.  Or a candidate for a dwarf planet...I'll get into that in a moment.  Pluto was recently downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet, for comparison.  That's a harsh look in the mirror in the morning, isn't it?  Sedna is a something called a trans-Neptunian object.  Really anything beyond the orbit of Neptune is classified as a trans-Neptunian object.  But Sedna is one of the larger and more distant objects to be classified thusly. 

Roughly half the size of Pluto (using my oh-so-scientific comparison of the two dwarf planets on this chart), it has a wildly elliptical orbit around the Sun.  Right now it is about 3 times as far away from the Sun as Neptune or around 88 astronomical units (or AU.  One AU is roughly the distance between the Sun and the Earth).  At its aphelion, or furthest point in its orbit from the Sun, it is an astounding 975 AU.  Or as I like to say, really fucking far.  That's why it's only a candidate for a dwarf planet.  Because it's so fucking far away we can't be absolutely sure yet.   

It's so far away that when it reaches this distant orbit in a few thousand years it may actually affect the path of those Killer Comets in the Oort cloud that I was talking about earlier.  It might not actually reach the Oort cloud, but its gravity might affect the orbits of one or more of those Killer Comets.  Maybe even sending one or two of them our way!  We need to prepare the rockets and the drills and Bruce Willis!!!!

Sorry...went off on a little tangent there.  But gets worse.

While reading about Sedna, I ran into something called Nemesis and my mind was further blown.  You see, you think that our solar system only has one star, right?  Well, my insignificant motes on a planetary pinhead, that may not be true.

Some astronomers actually believe that we are a binary system and that a brown dwarf star named Nemesis is out there, 50,000 to 100,000 AU away.  Somewhere beyond the Oort cloud.  So dim that none of our current instrumentation can pick it up.  Oh sure, we have a plan to figure out if all this is true or not.  But it might not matter.  Because the aptly-named Nemesis wants to kill us all.

That's right.  It wants your soul.

The idea behind the hypothetical Nemesis is a cycle of planet-killing destruction that seems to occur around ever 26 million years on our wee little planet.  A bunch of scientists sat around a campfire and came up with the scariest fireside urban story ever!  A star, a DEATH STAR, that has a wildly elliptical orbit around the Sun.  Kind of like Sedna, but scarier.  And because of its wacky orbit, it may actually go crashing through the Oort Cloud every 26 million years.  And that's when those pesky Killer Comets come into play.  Nemesis whacks them out of their normal orbit like a cosmic game of curling and sends them screaming towards us.

To kill us.

I'm having a bit of trouble wrapping my tiny brain around this.  I can't fathom that we can detect a dwarf planet that is half the size of Pluto that by all accounts is really fucking far away, but that we might actually have another freakin' star in our solar system!  That's like having a small, angry man living behind the hedges in your backyard.  And every once in a while he starts throwing shit at your patio.  You'd think we would know about stuff like this.

So sleep tight and try not to think of the Killer Comets or the dwarf planets or the brown dwarf stars that are out there trying to kill us all.  You should really just try not thinking about any killer dwarfs at all.  Especially ones that might live behind the hedges in your backyard.  You wouldn't want to anger him.

Note: Remember to play the Bug-Eyed Trivia Challenge every day. Can you imagine that I have a longer post about Space that is still to come? 


sybil law said...

Not nice, Earl!
GAH. I have bigger worries right now. I lost my cell phone, which makes no damn sense. I'm starting to look in the crazy places, like the fridge, and the cat food container. WTF!!!

white rabbit said...

Sybil - Maybe your cat has stolen the phone and intends to eat it ;)

Water Logged Canine said...

Wow, how now, wow, how now

Fuck a Nemesis.

Verdant Earl said...

Sybil - check behind the hedges in your backyard. Maybe the wee man has it.

Wabbit - Or maybe the cat is using the phone to order better food?

Doggie - Worst. Star Trek. Film. Ever.

RW said...

A light year is like 6 trillion miles and equates to roughly 70,000 years from now.

OMG I better start fucking everything in sight.

Verdant Earl said...

RW - I'm pretty sure that's why Tiger and Jesse James did it. ;)

savannah said...

well, hell, sugarpie! that put me right off worrying about the MITM and his being stuck in deepestdarkestafrica in a fucking sandstorm! ;~D y'all are a real pal! xoxoxox

Mrs. Hall said...

yeah, death star gonna kill us. got it.

ok so. saw pontypool! wowsers!

it's like this awesome awesome zombie fill that was a test of my wills to keep watching it. wicked scary!

woo hoo!

Verdant Earl said...

Savannah - Just a few more days, right?

Holly - it's in my queue!

Ren said...

I remember reading Asimov's book based on this idea years ago, though I don't remember anything else about it.

Verdant Earl said...

Ren - yeah, Asimov wrote that a few years after the Nemesis theory was fleshed out. He made his dwarf star a rogue that was only temporarily going to invade our solar system instead of a companion star, but the idea is basically the same. Thanks for reminding me. I read that when it first came out, but I had forgotten about it totally.

Bruce Johnson said...

I sort of wrapped my head around this concept when I was laying in a high mountain meadow while attending colleage back in the 80s. Ganga really makes you think in cosmic terms. I came to the conclusion that the we are all just microscopic specs swirling down the drane in the universe of life. Sometimes, hair, shaving cream and bits of toilet paper get in the way as biggie, there isn't a lot we can do about it....except marvel at the fact that we can even comprehend it.