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I am now running my annual July fund-raising campaign to celebrate the twelfth anniversary of the establishment of Behind the Black. For many reasons, mostly political but partly ethical, I do not use Google, Facebook, Twitter. These companies practice corrupt business policies, while targeting conservative websites for censoring, facts repeatedly confirmed by news stories and by my sense that Facebook has taken action to prevent my readers from recommending Behind the Black to their friends.

 

Thus, I must have your direct support to keep this webpage alive. Not only does the money pay the bills, it gives me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.

 

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The future Nemesis from space

From the American Astronomical Society meeting this week:

A team of astronomers, using the data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, calculated the galactic orbits of nearly 40,000 low mass stars. These stars are generally M dwarfs, cool, not very bright, and thus generally somewhat close to the Sun since if they are too far away we would not see them. You can read the abstract here, and download their full poster here [pdf].

For the astronomers, the data told them a great deal about the orbital properties of these stars. Though a majority are in circular orbits between 20 to 30 thousand light years from the galactic center, a small minority are in extremely eccentric orbits that travel far out into the galactic halo, as much 260,000 light years. A few others dive inward, getting within 6000 light years of the galactic center.

What made this poster stand out to me, however, was this quote from the abstract:

In addition, we have identified a number of stars that will pass very close to the Sun within the next [billion years]. These stars form the “Nemesis” family of orbits. Potential encounters with these stars could have a significant impact on orbits of Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt members as well as the planets. We comment on the probability of a catastrophic encounter within the next [billion years].

All told, they found that 18 low-mass cool M dwarf stars that will eventually pass close to the Sun. One star, SDSS J112612.07+152517.6, an M3 star that is about 2,300 light years away, is in an orbit that has it moving right towards us at about 90,000 miles per hour. Its mass is less than half that of the Sun, about 0.4 solar masses. This figure from the poster roughly illustrates the star’s position relative to our solar system over the next billion years:

Nemesis star

The star itself is shown in the inset. The red curve shows its calculated distance from the Sun over time, with the black area above and below showing the uncertainties of the calculation. As you can see, every hundred million years or so the distance between this star and the Sun shrinks, with the very very very rare possibility that the distance will sometimes shrink to zero!

With 18 stars each doing this every few 100 million years or so, the average time between close approaches is about 5 million years. These results suggest that another star passes close enough to our solar system frequently enough to not only disturb the comets in the Oort cloud, but also possibly affect the orbits of the planets in the outer solar system and Kuiper belt. One wonders, for example, if such an event had some influence on Pluto’s strange orbit.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

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