Stellar Encounters and Scholz’s Star

Stellar Encounters and Scholz’s Star

We often think of the universe as being dauntingly
large, so much so that traveling to the nearest
star system, currently Proxima Centauri, seems
only just within theoretical reach and even
then, it will take many years to accomplish
getting there.
As a result, the idea of actually colonizing
worlds that orbit other stars seems far in
the future, so far that we can only really
dream about it right now.
And when we look into the universe itself
for others that may have colonized multiple
star systems, we have yet to see any evidence
of them.
That should not be discouraging though, that
may simply be because civilizations are hard
to spot and we may yet find ones that have
colonized as our equipment gets more powerful.
But one thing that I think often gets neglected
in the debate over interstellar colonization
is that stars independently move through the
galaxy and surprisingly often they pass close
enough to us that colonization of any worlds
they may harbor could be far easier than colonizing
distant stars and planets.
It’s more a matter of just patiently waiting
for a wandering star to pass by, though I
personally also encourage proactively branching
It may seem like a very long wait to sit around
hoping for a star to pass by, but it makes
sense to view things in perspective.
The status quo of distances between other
stars and the sun was very different only
just 70,000 years ago.
Before I begin, this story illustrates well
how dynamic and interesting astronomy can
be, especially these days with our ever improving
equipment and understanding of the universe.
We did not know until recently that this past
encounter between the sun and another star
system even happened, and even the star system
itself that passed close by was only discovered
in 2013.
The star is called Scholz’s star, after its
discoverer, astronomer Ralf-Dieter Scholz.
In a 2015 paper by Eric Mamajek and colleagues,
links to all mentioned papers in the description
below, they report that Scholz’s star passed
so close to our sun 70,000 years ago that
it entered the outer Oort cloud.
Now, that time frame is interesting because
we were here back then.
We didn’t have recorded history yet, nor were
we probably doing much other than focusing
on raw survival, but homo sapiens was here
at a time when another star system was passing
less than a light-year away.
We may well be here still the next time this
sort of thing happens, see my video on this
channel about Gliese 710, a star that will
pass within the Oort cloud a bit over a million
years from now.
But it may happen sooner.
There is also now another star known that
may pass even closer than either Gliese 710,
or Scholz’s star.
This third star is known as HIP 85605.
This star may be either an M type dwarf or
a K type main sequence star, and is currently
at a distance, though this is really uncertain,
of about 18-28 light-years.
Actually, everything is uncertain with this
star, but in 2014 it was advanced in a paper
by C.A.L.
Bailer-Jones, link below, that HIP 85605 could
pass within .13 to .65 light-years from the
sun sometime between a quarter and a half
million years from now.
That would be extremely close, and would be
far deeper in the Oort cloud than the other
known future encounters will penetrate, but
again, the distances involved and size of
this star are not yet well understood and
subject to significant future revision.
But that wasn’t all, Bailer-Jones also noted
that many more known stars will pass close
to the sun, and in the past many have, the
number being about 40 have come or will come
within 6.4 light years 20 million years in
the past or future.
In fact, the star Gamma Microscopii passed
within 6 light years of the sun about 3.8
million years ago and would have outshown
the current brightest star in the sky significantly.
And this star is no pedestrian dwarf type
star, this was a G-type giant star.
That’s disconcerting, the idea that large
stars can pass close by.
The paper notes that if the wrong kind of
star happens to pass us in the future, it
could bathe the earth in deadly ultraviolet
light, and if it happened to go supernova
while close enough, well, let’s just say that
perturbed comets would be the least of our
Thankfully, nothing like that appears on the
slate any time soon, but there may also be
other such stars that are yet to be discovered
that may pass close by even sooner than HIP
85605, some estimates say that a star should
pass through the Oort cloud about every hundred
thousand years on average, and one coming
as close to us as Scholz’s star did, should
happen about every nine million years on average.
Scholz’s star is in actuality a double star
system, there seems to be a red dwarf primary
star and a brown dwarf secondary star.
And early humans wouldn’t have known this
star was passing by, even as close as it was,
it would have been too dim for the naked eye
to see, though it might have been occasionally
visible due to short term flares.
It’s even dimmer now at a distance of about
20 light-years.
And, in so far as we know, it doesn’t have
any planets, so we probably didn’t miss much
with that one as far as colonizing it goes.
But the passage does beg an ominous question,
did it sufficiently disturb the Oort cloud
enough to send a hail of comets our way?
The models say probably not, and even if it
did, the resultant comets won’t get here for
about another 2 million years.
If we’re still here after another two million
years of technological development, we likely
will have intercepted those and melted them
down for raw materials.
But in the end, a star with planets passing
that close to the sun in the future may offer
the human race, and this is far future speculation,
an opportunity to colonize another star system
by virtue of it passing by us rather than
us going to it.
But that colonization would be sad, as our
colony would recede from us after the encounter,
growing ever more distant until eventually
meaningful communications would be lost.
Thanks for listening!
I am science fiction author and futurist John
Michael Godier and as a note to the viewers
asking about a KIC 8462852 update, I don’t
yet have enough solid material to make a video,
but I can say that the star continues to dip
and remain active.
More on that story in the not-too-distant
future and be sure to check out my books at
your favorite online book retailer and subscribe
to my channel for regular, in-depth explorations
into the interesting, weird and unknown aspects
of this amazing universe in which we live.

59 thoughts on “Stellar Encounters and Scholz’s Star”

  1. Isn't there an old b movie about a star that crashes into earth so some people build a space plane to colonize it's planet. I don't remember what it's called.

  2. Thank you John for another fascinating video. I wholeheartedly support space exploration and realize how important it is to humanity, but I also have doubts about whether we should. We can't even take care of our own planet and we're anxious to explore others?, how long before Mars is littered with beer bottles and Cheeto wrappers? I say we should take care of Earth first THEN go exploring.

  3. Wow, I did not know the stellar neighborhood was that dynamic! I knew stars are moving towards each other, but in my head that happens on much larger time scales for some reason. Only 70.000 years … Amazing! What does this mean for the timescales of primates existing, or mammals or life in general. We like to think of dinosaurs basically living in the same universe as we do, but as far as we know there might have been a second prominent star making all nights bright for a portion of the year … Are there any constraints on how close stars could have come in the past with us noticing the effects today? Could whole planets have been swaped between solar systems ?

  4. Or, the intelligent design proponents are right. Some drunken individuals from a passing-by planet fell off theirs and landed on ours/this. So, here we are. Source and proof: Mainstream Youtube videos. 🙂

  5. I'll echo what others have said about not realizing just how rapid stellar movement is. Excellent topic. Unrelated to that, I have a question. You add new music or has this been a thing and I just hadn't noticed?

  6. Gosh – I am becoming a fan.. Good work John! Aha!- we have a almost 300 thousand left. Did the Shultzians; send advance ships to colonize this place? Did Shultz & co. – correct our orbits too? Ratios are so undersold – the time before – galaxies disappear – is all we all get. 200 mil. All aliens know this too apparently; so sentient minds – in every galaxy – will choose eventually to work together. Ratios & options- to succeed – is the only future. Dna diversity is to be protected – traded – & yes- I've seen about ten – known unknowns. Free will is a priority for now;  of course I'm just guessing…

  7. You're getting better and better at making these videos! Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Look forward to your fututre vids!

  8. For the purposes of interstellar travel, half a light year is the functional equivalent of four light years. Waiting tens of thousands of years for a shorter travel time doesn't seem to make sense. And such a star would probably have a high relative velocity, maybe making the energy requirement similar to just flying to Proxima Centauri. It's a bit like trying to hitch a ride on a passing bullet train.

  9. Only if the Big-spending aerospace contractors successfully lobby the government to shift the enormous annual US military budget to the space program.

  10. Your smooth voice and mellow music tends to make me believe whatever you say is true. Please cease this hypnotic activity immediately.

  11. I find the complete resignation that conventional astrophysics has with speed-of-light travel limit more than a little dismaying. It's been little more than a century since Einstein discovered it, and everyone just threw up there hands as if there would never be any point in trying to get around it. Never any way to artificially reduce "mass" of a craft, even after thousands of years of technological advance? Really? It's not like there's a consensus as to what constitutes mass in the first place. I say give our progeny some credit. They may not just give up as easily as we have.

  12. I'm looking foreward to future analysis of GAIA data, there will probably be some surprises. As about stellar encounters and interstellar travel, humanity needs to find ways to expand the individuals lifespan, so neither travel time nor waiting for encounters are an issue any more – with this comes the need of a stable society where travellers can possibly return. Try making the thought experiment with these factors, it's interesting to see what events become unimportant and what comes into our reach.

  13. Great channel! Subscribed! Your vids are fascinating, but I wish they were longer. That's not a critique, I just really enjoy them. Jim

  14. Two things this makes me think of. 1. Could we maybe direct our star to a potentially habitable star like Trappist-1 and 2. Could we maybe detect another odd ball star off course and heading for a habitable star as signs of intelligent life?

  15. … seems like the narrative ended without mentioning the possibility that a passing start might contain life who thinks Earth would be an easy colonization.

  16. It would be interesting if in the future close-approach stars were colonized and then moved with stellar engines to create a dense local "core" of colonized systems. Maybe a sign of Alien life would be similar unnatural collections of stars all weirdly close together and moving together in the galaxy.

  17. Instead of trying to rocket boost outta the system, I wonder if we could use the sun's gravity and minimal thrust to achieve escape velocity and significant speed to reach other systems. Could we get close enough to it to make it worth it?

  18. My friend and I would always joke about building a time machine and traveling to a random point in the distant future.
    Stop the machine, walk out of the chamber and look up at the night sky to see how the scenery had changed…only to be immediately gobsmacked by the sight of a blue supergiant, larger than the apparent size of the full Moon.

    "Oh my goodness!! Look at tha…"

    Type II SN.

  19. By my napkin calcs HIP 85605 will approach about about between 12 to 25 km/s. Not impossible to hop aboard it's satellites at that speed I guess, assuming there are any worth the effort.

  20. That was fascinating! I didn't realise quite how many, and how frequently, stars pass us closely by.

    Scholz's star is what I was looking for, but found much more. I was also interested in the idea of how it would have disturbed the movements of objects in the Oort Cloud; it's rather comforting to know that's not really an issue, and terrific to have a question answered that I haven't seen anywhere else.

  21. if Scholz's star is 20 light years away right now then it moved at a clip of 4.6 million miles a day relative to our solar system , if Scholztarian aliens launched probes at OUR solar system as Scholz's star was approaching they would have had a 191,000 MPH or 53 miles / second natural speed boost relative to our Solar system ..

  22. I am so glad I stumbled upon your channel. I've been listening to your presentations almost non-stop since early yesterday. I'll probably have withdrawal symptoms when I run out of presentations. This has become my drug of choice! LOL

  23. Really interesting upload, thanks. As to us becoming aware of an opportunity to colonise a close passing Sun's goldilocks planet but then losing contact with said people's. Perhaps, if we have the technology to do so, they could leave, 2 way communication booster signal satellites, as they go further away. Obviously, they'd have to make them leave their solar system, and go in our general direction, but then stop, and hopefully not be pulled by some Sun's (or major planets, ) gravity.

  24. Why would we want to colonize a wandering star system? Just so we never see those who go off onto that journey again….ever? Have to say, that's a sad story if I've ever heard one. A star moves past close enough that humans go and colonize a planet in its system where over some amount of time, communication becomes less and less until they're effectively gone forever….

    ….Why does that strike me a bit like a God scenario?

  25. Finally something new and engrossing for a guy who checks daily for new space content. Thanks! Hope you’ve made more. If not, please get to work. : /

  26. John, great video and information, as always. I couldn't help but think of the dynamics of a B-class star on a similar trajectory. Especially if it had several large gas giant planets in tow in its outer orbits, like our own system. Could such a pass perturb Neptune into an elliptical orbit that might result in it passing just outside of Mars? I shudder to think what a collision of Neptune & Jupiter would mean to us.

  27. Heck yeah, I got l Iike number 1,000! You're welcome, I'll be expecting my prize any day now. Lol! Great video, keep up the great work!

  28. John Thank you for your videos I'm a retired cop of 33 years so I'm a layman to your subjects. You do a great job of explaining your topics so even a dumb cop can understand. Also your voice is very calming so I listen to you when I'm stressed out. Thx again

  29. With luck, some of those hypothetical disturbed comets may arrive earlier and be redirected to Mars for planetary reclamation purposes. I'm still disgusted that we didn't have the resources in place to do this with the Tie Siding comet that missed Mars by a hair a few years ago.

  30. Come on, now. If we haven't figured out wormhole technology by the time one of these stars get close to us, then we don't deserve to be an interstellar civilization.

    And really, without more or less instantaneous travel from one star to another, how CAN we be an interstellar civilization. The latency between star systems would easily be enough for each star system's inhabitants to rapidly change in cultures and even biology. We may have descendants who go to other worlds in other star systems, but they will be too different from us, and the latency between our connections to them too high, to really be considered some connected interstellar human race. So yeah….wormholes.

  31. This all assuming Sol System never changes speed or declination in it's orbit in the Galaxy…faster my solar motor, faster. Zooom!

  32. I was just wondering about planet hoping when two star systems fly close. It is good to see that I was not the only person who thought about this idea. What really bugs me is that no one has suggested that we (humans) may be from Scholz's Star. We humans trace back to about the same time when Scholz's Star passed by our Sun, about 70,000 years. What I would like to see is to send a radio signal to Scholz's Star and see if a response signal is sent back, however, this would take 40+ years.

  33. If we had got to where we are now maybe 100 thousand years ago…..who knows how it could have worked out. They were here….but for how long. We were not interesting enough….now we are….we are too far away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *