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When Worlds Collide

Via a mailing list: Spaceflight Now reports on a recent interplanetary collision.

“It’s as if Earth and Venus collided with each other,” said Benjamin Zuckerman, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and a co-author on the paper. “Astronomers have never seen anything like this before. Apparently, major catastrophic collisions can take place in a fully mature planetary system.”

“If any life was present on either planet, the massive collision would have wiped out everything in a matter of minutes—the ultimate extinction event,” said co-author Gregory Henry, an astronomer at Tennessee State University (TSU). “A massive disk of infrared-emitting dust circling the star provides silent testimony to this sad fate.”

Zuckerman, Henry and Michael Muno, an astronomer at Caltech at the time of the research, were studying a star known as BD+20 307, which is surrounded by a shocking 1 million times more dust than is orbiting our sun. The star is located in the constellation Aries.

“Recently” is apparently any time in the past few hundred thousand years. And we could be next:

“The stability of planetary orbits in our own solar system has been considered for nearly two decades by astronomer Jacques Laskar in France and, more recently, by Konstantin Batygin and Greg Laughlin in the U.S.A.,” Henry noted. “Their computer models predict planetary motions into the distant future and they find a small probability for collisions of Mercury with Earth or Venus sometime in the next billion years or more. The small probability of this happening may be related to the rarity of very dusty planetary systems like BD+20 307.”