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Home>>Photo >> Science
09:45, June 11, 2009

Orbital chaos may cause planetary smash-up within solar system


This undated handout illustration provided by Nature Publishing group shows what a collision between Earth and Venus might look like. A force known as orbital chaos may cause our Solar System to go haywire, leading to possible collision between Earth and Venus or Mars, according to a study.(Xinhua/AFP Photo)

A new study in the Thursday's issue of Nature predicts there's a real, albeit slim, possibility of a planetary smash-up inside the inner solar system due to the Mercury's distinctly lopsided orbit.

Forget sending probe to Mars, the planet may come crashing right here to Earth if gravitational interactions substantially agitate its now-stable orbit.

Boffins Jacques Laskar and Mickael Gastineau of the Paris Observatory say results of a new computer model show a roughly one percent chance within the next five billion years that such a planetary apocalypse will happen.

The researchers simulated the most current data available on the interactions of solar system's eight planets (with the edition of Pluto and Earth's moon) over the course of five billion years -- a point in which the sun is expected to swell into a red giant and swallow the inner planets.

Mercury is a particular nuisance to the stability of the solar system because its orbit is a slightly elongated ellipse, leaving it more vulnerable to being swayed by gravity of the large outer planets like Jupiter.

Out of 2,501 scenarios sequentially nudging Mercury's orbit by only 0.38 millimeters, 25 lead to a large enough increase in the planet's orbital eccentricity to allow collisions with Venus or the sun.

In one simulation, Mercury smashes into Venus about 1.76 billion years from now. In three others, Mercury falls into the sun.

In yet another, Mercury's gravitational tug yanks Mars within 800 kilometers of Earth 3.34 billion years from now, causing the red planet to rip apart and shower Earth with debris.

Astronomers believe the solar system is about 4.6 billion years old.

Source;Xinhua/Agencies


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