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The uncertainty of science: New computer simulations now suggest that the solar systems outer regions were shaped by the near approach of another sun-like star billions of years ago.
Susanne Pfalzner and her co-workers suggest that a star was approaching the Sun at an early stage, ‘stealing’ most of the outer material from the Sun’s protoplanetary disk and throwing what was left over into inclined and eccentric orbits. Performing thousands of computer simulations they checked what would happen when a star passes very close-by and perturbs the once larger disk. It turned out that the best fit for today’s outer solar systems comes from a perturbing star which had the same mass as the Sun or somewhat lighter (0.5-1 solar masses) and flew past at approximately 3 times the distance of Neptune.
However, the most surprising thing for the researchers was that a fly-by does not only explain the strange orbits of the objects of the outer solar system, but also gives a natural explanation for several unexplained features of our Solar System, including the mass ratio between Neptune and Uranus, and the existence of two distinct populations of Kuiper Belt objects.
An intriguing result, but to put it mildly it carries a great deal of uncertainty. If true, however, it suggests — as does other research — that our solar system might be somewhat unique. The other research into the solar system’s history suggests we have been traveling through galactic quiet regions for a long time, which helped make things more friendly for the development of life. Together all this work says that in the beginning the solar system was in crowded regions, with its later history then drifting into empty regions.
Thus, the history of our solar system within the galaxy might play a very important part in why we are here.