A new star has been detected by the astronomers making the closest ever approach to our solar system that occurred approximately 70,000 years ago.
A team of scientists from the US, Chile and South Africa spotted a low-mass star, named Scholz’s star, likely passing through a comet cloud, known as Oort Cloud. The fly-by detected it passing within only 0.8 light years of us.
Scientists said that this was the closest approach ever made by any star. In cosmic terms, this is a close shave ever by a star. So far, Proxima Centauri is the only known closest star to our solar system. It is a 4.2 light years away from the Earth.
The newly detected star has been named after astronomer Ralf-Dieter Scholz, from the Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam in Germany. The star was detected by Scholz in 2013.
The star caught the astronomers’ attention because it displayed a very slow motion in the sky, known as tangential motion, despite being fairly close to our planet Earth, i.e. only 20 light years away.
“Most stars at the closer distance show much larger tangential motion. The small tangential motion and proximity initially indicated that the star was most likely either moving towards a future close encounter with the solar system, or it had ‘recently’ come close to the solar system and was moving away,” said lead study author Eric Mamajek, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester.
After Mamajek and his team carried further observations, it was discovered that the star was moving away approximately directly from the regions of our solar system, indicating that it have had a close encounter in the past.
For finding out its past trajectory, the scientists carried closer observations of the current star velocity, which was gathered by the Magellan telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and the Southern African Large Telescope.
The Gaia satellite, which was recently launched by the European Space Agency, can be used in the successful mapping of the position of the star and velocity that would assist in gathering information on whether it had a close encounter with the solar system in the past, or in the far future.
The report was detailed in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.