Impact of a stellar intruder on our solar system

The solar system was formed from a protoplanetary disk consisting of gas and dust. Since the cumulative mass of all objects beyond Neptune is much smaller than expected and the bodies there mostly have inclined, eccentric orbits, it is likely that some process restructured the outer solar system after its formation. Susanne Pfalzner from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and her colleagues present a study showing that a close fly-by of a neighbouring star can simultaneously lead to the observed lower mass density in the outer part of the solar system and excite the bodies there onto eccentric, inclined orbits. Their numerical simulations show that many additional bodies at high inclinations still await discovery, perhaps including the sometimes postulated “planet X.”

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