In case your list of things to worry about is a little short and you need something to raise your anxiety levels, two astronomers have now come to your rescue. Filip Berski and Piotr Dybczyński at Mickiewicz University in Poland, using the latest data from the Gaia satellite, have recalculated the motion parameters of the star Gliese 710.1 Their recalculation shows that Gliese 710 is heading toward our solar system with dire consequences to follow.
Gliese 710 is not a large star. It is 60 percent of the Sun’s mass and about two-thirds of its diameter. Its luminosity is about one-tenth that of the Sun. Right now, Gliese 710 is 63.8 light-years away in the constellation Serpens and is visible as a faint star in a 7×50 pair of binoculars.
Astronomers had previously determined that Gliese 710 posed little risk to our solar system. Hipparcos satellite data indicated that its closest approach to the Sun would be 1 light-year (6 trillion miles) and that this approach would occur 1.45 million years from now.2 While this approach is close enough to impact the outer reaches of the Oort cloud of comets (the Sun’s most distant comet belt), it is not so close as to yield a strong possibility of a large comet impacting Earth.
Berski and Dybczynski noticed that the first data release from the recently launched Gaia satellite contained everything they needed to calculate with much greater precision the motion parameters of Gliese 710. Their calculations revealed that Gliese 710 will approach the Sun about five times closer than previous calculations indicated. In 1.35 million years from now, Gliese 710 will be just 1.24 trillion miles from the Sun.3 At that time, Gliese 710 will be the brightest star in the night sky, shining a little brighter than Jupiter at maximum brightness.
At its closest approach to the Sun, Gliese 710 will penetrate the inner part of the Oort cloud. The Oort cloud has two components. The outer Oort cloud has a spherical configuration and extends out to 1, possibly as much as 3 light-years (6 to 18 trillion miles) from the Sun. The inner Oort cloud, also know as the Hills cloud, is torus-shaped and extends from 0.03 to 0.31 light-years (185 billion to 1.85 trillion miles) from the Sun. From a study of the orbits of inner solar system comets that were captured from the Oort and Hills clouds, a team of three astronomers determined that the Hills cloud probably contains at least a hundred times as many comets as the outer Oort cloud.4
The new calculation shows that Gliese 710 will not only invade the outer Oort cloud it will also penetrate the Hills cloud. Coming as deep into the Hills cloud as Berski and Dybczynski’s calculations indicate, Gliese 710’s gravity will so disturb the Hills cloud as to send a heavy shower of comets hurtling into the inner parts of the solar system. This shower will continue for about 3 million years after the time of Gliese 710’s closest approach.
The gravitational fields of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune will shield Earth from most of these impactors, but not all. Earth will not escape unscathed. Either one or two large comets will smash into Earth or many smaller ones or both.
These future collision events may not bring about a mass extinction event. It is highly probable, however, that they would so destroy human civilization as to send humanity back to the stone age and plummet the human population down to just several million people. They could even wipe out humanity.
This coming catastrophe is something to worry about indeed, especially for people—both Christians and non-Christians—who are placing the future hope of humanity on planet Earth (restoration theology).
Restoration theology is the belief that when Jesus Christ returns to Earth he will restore Earth to the paradisiacal conditions that existed in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. Restoration theologians and their followers teach that the new creation described in Revelation 21–22 is Earth restored and that Christians with renewed incorruptible bodies will spend eternity on the restored Earth.
Gliese 710’s coming close approach is just one of several looming problems for restoration theology. The Sun’s increasing brightness will bring an end to the ice age cycle in as little as 1 million years. As the Sun continues to brighten, in just 20 million years or less, advanced life will be exterminated. As the solar system continues to orbit the center of our galaxy it will first become exposed to deadly radiation emanating from the core of our galaxy. Then it will cross a spiral arm. Eventually, the Sun’s diameter will expand to include Earth’s orbit. When that happens, Earth will be incinerated. Even without these and other unavoidable future disasters, the ongoing operation of the laws of physics by themselves inevitably will bring an end to all physical life not only on Earth but everywhere throughout the universe.5
Gliese 710’s close approach helps refute another branch of end-times theology. More than a decade ago I addressed an audience of seminary professors at one of our country’s largest conservative evangelical seminaries. Like me, these theologians believed that the new creation described in Revelation 21–22 is a new realm that will replace the universe and the present Earth. Like me, they believed that the new creation will be governed by radically different laws and dimensions. Unlike me, however, they believed that the second coming of Christ is a long way off, as much as 3 million years into the future.
In the Q&A time I had with the seminary professors I explained why, just based on the physics of the Earth and solar system, the return of Christ had to occur in much less time than 3 million years hence. Thanks to Berski and Dybczynski’s research on Gliese 710, we can conclude that Christ’s return must occur in less than 1.35 million years. If you read the last two chapters of my book Improbable Planet, you will see a combination of scientific and biblical evidence establishing that Christ’s return may only be decades away and cannot be any more than a few centuries hence.6
Feature image credit: NASA
- Filip Berski and Piotr A. Dybczyński, “Gliese 710 Will Pass the Sun Even Closer: Close Approach Parameters Recalculated Based on the First Gaia Data Release,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 595 (November 2016): id. L10, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201629835.
- Vadim V. Bobylev, “Searching for Stars Closely Encountering with the Solar System,” Astronomy Letters 36 (March 2010): 220–26, doi:10.1134/S1063773710030060.
- Berski and Dybczynski, “Gliese 710 Will Pass the Sun,” p. 1.
- Harold F. Levison, Luke Dones, and Martin J. Duncan, “The Origin of Halley-Type Comets: Probing the Inner Oort Cloud,” Astronomical Journal 121 (April 2001): 2253–67, doi:10.1086/319943.
- I describe these consequences in my book, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 95–104.
- Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 198–230.