And while the ground beneath our feet feels solid and reassuring (for the most part), this won’t last forever. One day, our sun will die, expelling a large percentage of its mass before its core shrinks into a white dwarf, and the heat gradually seeps into a cold, dark, and dead mass of rock, after a thousand trillion years.
But the rest of the solar system will disappear at that time. According to the new simulations, it would take just 100 billion years for any of the remaining planets to evaporate across the galaxy, leaving the dying sun far, which is fewer than previously thought.
Astronomers and physicists have been trying to solve the mystery of the final fate of the solar system for hundreds of years at least.
The new study was conducted to understand this fate, by astronomers John Zink of the University of California and Los Angeles, Konstantin Batygin of the California Institute of Technology, and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan.
The study indicated that the more objects that participate in a dynamic system, and interact with each other, the more complex and difficult to predict the system. This is called the N-body problem.
Because of this complexity, it is impossible to make deterministic predictions of the orbits of solar system objects after certain time scales, about five to ten million years later.
However, if we can figure out what will happen to our solar system, it will tell us something about how the universe evolved, on timescales much longer than its present age of 13.8 billion years.
And in 1999, astronomers predicted that the solar system would slowly collapse over a period of at least a billion billion years, or quintillion years. This is how long it would take, according to their calculations, for the orbital resonance of Jupiter and Saturn to separate Uranus.
According to the Zinc team, this calculation ruled out some important impacts that could soon disrupt the solar system.
And in about 5 billion years, when it dies, the sun will swell into a red giant, swallowing Mercury, Venus and Earth.
Then it will be ejected about half of its mass and spread into space by the stellar wind, and the remaining white dwarf will be only about 54% of the current solar mass.
This loss of mass will reduce the grip of the Sun’s gravitational pull on the remaining planets – Mars and the outer gas giants and ice giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Second, as the solar system orbits around the center of the galaxy, other stars must get close enough to disturb the orbits of the planets, about once every 23 million years.
“By calculating the loss of stellar mass and the enlargement of the exoplanet’s orbits, these encounters will become more effective,” the scientists wrote.
With these additional impacts in mind in their calculations, the team performed 10 simulations of the exoplanet’s N-body (leaving Mars as its impact would be negligible), using the powerful Shared Hoffman2 cluster. This simulation was divided into two phases: until the end of the sun’s mass loss, and the next phase.
Although the 10 simulations are not a solid statistical sample, the team found that a similar scenario is executed every time.
After the sun completes its evolution into a white dwarf, the outer planets have a larger orbit, but they remain relatively stable. However, Jupiter will orbit five times around the sun, as opposed to twice as Saturn.
These expanded orbits, combined with planetary resonance properties, make the system more susceptible to perturbations by the passage of stars.
After 30 billion years, these stellar disturbances distort those stable orbits into chaotic orbits, leading to a rapid loss of the planet. All but one of the planets escaped their orbits as rogue planets.
This only last planet will exist for another 50 billion years, but its fate will be the same in the end, as it will also be eliminated due to the gravitational influence of the transiting stars. Ultimately, 100 billion years after the sun turned into a white dwarf, the solar system would no longer exist.
This is a much shorter time frame than the one proposed in 1999. The scientists note that it depends on current observations of the local galactic environment and stellar flight estimates, both of which change.