back to article BLOOD STAR of the NEANDERTHALS passed close to our Sun

Back when Homo sapiens neanderthalensis strode or shambled or knuckled along the earth, about 70,000 years ago, the prehuman simians may have been able to see a small star passing through the fringes of our solar system. So say the authors of a new paper, The Closest Known Flyby of a Star to the Solar System, in The …

  1. drand
    Alert

    0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

    0.8 AU in the sub-heading got my attention, but the text seems to suggest 0.8 light years, which is more comforting.

    1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

      Oopsies. Light years. Sorted. Silly me. Last story of the day before I headed out for an interview. No excuse, of course ...

      1. Hairy Spod

        Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

        "When Homo sapiens neanderthalensis walked the earth, about 70,000 years ago, they may have been able to see a small star passing the fringes of our solar system"

        in which case you'd better get the red pen out again alter the bit about fringes of the solar system too!

        There's a big difference between 0.8 light years and the hours that it takes to get to the edges of the solar system

        1. Mike Richards Silver badge

          Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

          The Oort Cloud is bound to the Sun so its outer limit is considered the edge of the Solar System, that's currently thought to be between 0.8 and 1 light year out, so yep, this was inside the Solar System.

          1. Frosted Flake

            Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

            If the Oort Cloud is real, then yes.

            But let's keep in mind no one has ever seen the Oort Cloud. It was a suggestion. not a discovery. It was a convenient explanation for the origin of comets. And surely this passing star stirred up a great many comets and sent them crashing about our ears.

            What's that? It didn't? Hmmmm...

      2. Martin Budden
        Pint

        Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

        Last story of the day before I headed out for an interview.

        When someone asks you "Pint of the usual then?" that's not an interview, it's a pub.

    2. swodeam

      Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

      Can somebody explain to me how two planets can separate 20 light years in 70,000 years please.

      1. cray74

        Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

        "Can somebody explain to me how two planets can separate 20 light years in 70,000 years please."

        As noted elsewhere in these comments, that requires 1/3500th light-speed, which sounds impressive because it has "light speed in it." At a quick conversion, that's 86 kilometers per second.

        While a bit speedy compared to human space probes, and above the average speed of stars around the sun (~20km/s, because Sol is moving faster than the local group average), it's hardly setting a record. A number of stars, some even with spiffy Hubble photographs, get above 100km/s relative to neighbors and galactic halo stars crossing the plane of the galaxy can do so at 245km/s.

        Take a moment to skim this for some of the exceptional speedsters. Scholz doesn't even really rate among them:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_kinematics

        1. swodeam

          Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

          Yeah, I got 54 miles per sec when I took the trouble to work it out unfortunately just after I posted the question, I just got caught up by the 20 light years. Thanks.

          1. ian 22

            Re: 0.8AU or 0.8 Light Years?

            There would be no confusion if the author had used standard units of length, in this case, bendy buses.

  2. SolidSquid

    I notice El Reg has remembered the comments from the other day about a red star shining white light on a planet

    1. Wilseus

      "I notice El Reg has remembered the comments from the other day about a red star shining white light on a planet"

      I don't know to which comment this is referring, so forgive me if I am preaching to the converted, but this is a common misconception. There is no such thing as a red star. Even the coolest stars have a colour temperature of nearly 3000K or so. This is still whiter than a halogen light bulb, and so while most of its output is in the infra red it would still illuminate any nearby planets with a whitish light.

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        @Wilseus

        Are you telling me that Superman was colourblind? So how does he know what kryptonite looks like?

  3. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Comet botherers, the original version

    When the Moon is in the seventh hour

    and Jupiter aligns with Mars

    then a fecking great binary star system will interfere with all your comets

    etc.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Comet botherers, the original version

      This is the dawning of the age of Neanderthal, age of Neanderthal....

  4. Benchops

    > about 70,000 years ago

    ...

    > any objects the star disturbed are not going to make themselves known for many millennia

    So where are they????

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      I guess that 'Many >= 70' is the answer here.

      I'm hoping it's more '>' than '='.........

    2. Christoph Silver badge

      "So where are they????"

      Behind you!

      1. MrDamage

        >>"So where are they????"

        >Behind you!

        But everyone knows you can't take panto comets seriously.

        1. David Pollard

          But everyone knows you can't take panto comets seriously

          Oh yes you can.

          1. The Indomitable Gall

            Re: But everyone knows you can't take panto comets seriously

            Oh no you can't.

    3. cray74

      "> any objects the star disturbed are not going to make themselves known for many millennia

      So where are they????"

      To clarify the article a bit, its usage of "many" is approximately equal to "2000." In other words, the Oort cloud comets disturbed by Scholtz's Star are about 2 million years away from the inner Solar system.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholz's_Star

      And given the rotational and orbital motion of Earth with respect to the Oort cloud, there will be times in the year when - as another poster said - they're behind you.

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Boffin

    Flares would have to be HUGE to be visualle impressive for Neanderthals

    Hate to pour cold water over the nice idea that Neanderthals would have been startled by flares of Scholz's Star., but a little back of the envelope calculations shows this is unlikely:

    The star would have been about magnitude 10.3 in the night sky at shortest distance to earth, apparently. This means that to be visible a flare would need to raise the brightness by 4.3 magnitudes to reach magnitude 6 (drop on the magnitude scale = increase in brightness). This is possible in the blue band, but in the visual band (roughly corresponding to the rods in the retina) it is more likely to observe just one or two magnitudes increase, keeping the star well hidden. Only a 6 or 7 magnitude increase would make the star noticable (but still rather mediocre), and something like 12 magnitudes would be needed to rival the planets. This is VERY unlikely

    Still a very interesting report

    1. Graham Marsden
      WTF?

      Re: Flares would have to be HUGE to be visualle impressive for Neanderthals

      Apparently flares are coming back into fashion...!

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        Re: Flares would have to be HUGE to be visualle impressive for Neanderthals

        You have a flair for off-the-cuff jokes.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Flares would have to be HUGE to be visualle impressive for Neanderthals

          Better be careful you don't go up in flames there!

        2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Flares would have to be HUGE to be visualle impressive for Neanderthals

          I thought it was a pants joke, tbh.

          1. MassiveBob
            Mushroom

            Re: Flares would have to be HUGE to be visualle impressive for Neanderthals

            If it was really 0.8AU, like in the original sub-heading, then the Neanderthal's pants would have turned into a brown dwarf too.

    2. Britt Johnston

      And: Star would have to be a HUGE dwarf to wobble the planets

      And if you can't see it, the gravity change will be small too, as both effects are inverse square.

  6. breakfast
    Alien

    Timely...

    Around that time the human population bottlenecked to a few thousand individuals. Coincidence, or set-up for a future sci-fi epic?

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Timely...

      I thought the Toba super-volcano eruption took care of that

      That fact won't stop Hollywood/Discovery Channel/History Channel/BBC, etc making a new disaster movie/"documentary" along the lines of WHAT IF A RED DWARF CAME WITHIN 0.8 AU OF EARTH, WERE ALL DOOMED!!!

      1. Just Enough

        Re: Timely...

        I'm just looking forward to the inevitable viral facebook post that predicts the star elbowing Jupiter aside and consuming the Moon. And all going to happen next month at 3.15pm, says unspecified scientists. Hide under your beds.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Timely...

        Yes, but what do you think caused the Toba super-volcano eruption!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Timely...

          Yes, but what do you think caused the Toba super-volcano eruption!

          Umm... Toba, I guess?

          What do I win?

      3. David Given

        Re: Timely...

        I think you'll find that a chap called Herbert Wells can claim prior art on that, with his 1897 story _The Star_:

        https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/star/

        Thanks for prompting me to reread it. (It's quite short, only about 4500 words.) Even 118 years later it's got surprising power, and it's scientifically not bad either, even by today's standards.

        (I was going to add that the body in question is too small to be a real star, but a closer reading of the story shows that Wells knows this quite well --- before the collision with Neptune it's not luminous. A dark gas giant from the Oort cloud, maybe? Of course, what Wells *doesn't* say is that whatever it is is probably now on a highly elliptic orbit taking it into the inner solar system, and another Earth interception is likely, although not for a while. At least it's going to threaten the Martians as well. Serves them right, the smug gits.)

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Timely...

          The Star

          "Pretty women, flushed and glittering, heard the news told jestingly between the dances, and feigned an intelligent interest they did not feel. “Nearer! Indeed. How curious! How very, very clever people must be to find out things like that!”

      4. kellerr13

        Re: Timely...

        What if cartoon characters existed in real life...WE'RE ALL DOOMED!

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Coat

        Re: Timely...

        nah; it was the Threads there being no flying reptiles like on Pern

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Timely...

        "That fact won't stop Hollywood/Discovery Channel/History Channel/BBC, etc making a new disaster movie/"documentary" ...

        The way they're going its more like WHAT IF A RED DWARF CAME WITHIN 80 LIGHT YEARS OF EARTH, WERE ALL DOOMED!!!

  7. Graham Marsden
    Coat

    What the...

    ... smeg?!

  8. Novex

    I've heard of something like this before...

    'When Worlds Collide', anyone?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Worlds_Collide_%281951_film%29

    1. MrDamage

      Re: I've heard of something like this before...

      Perhaps from this song?

      Michael Rennie was ill

      The Day the Earth Stood Still

      But he told us where we stand

      And Flash Gordon was there

      In silver underwear

      Claude Rains was The Invisible Man

      Then something went wrong

      For Fay Wray and King Kong

      They got caught in a celluloid jam

      Then at a deadly pace

      It Came From Outer Space

      And this is how the message ran...

      Science fiction (ooh ooh ooh) double feature

      Doctor X (ooh ooh ooh) will build a creature

      See androids fighting (ooh ooh ooh) Brad and Janet

      Anne Francis stars in (ooh ooh ooh) Forbidden Planet

      Wo oh oh oh oh oh

      At the late night, double feature, picture show

      I knew Leo G. Carroll

      Was over a barrel

      When Tarantula took to the hills

      And I really got hot

      When I saw Janette Scott

      Fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills

      Dana Andrews said prunes

      Gave him the runes

      And passing them used lots of skills

      But When Worlds Collide

      Said George Pal to his bride

      I'm gonna give you some terrible thrills

      Like a...

      Science fiction (ooh ooh ooh) double feature

      Doctor X (ooh ooh ooh) will build a creature

      See androids fighting (ooh ooh ooh) Brad and Janet

      Anne Francis stars in (ooh ooh ooh) Forbidden Planet

      Wo oh oh oh oh oh

      At the late night, double feature, picture show

      I wanna go - Oh oh oh oh

      To the late night, double feature, picture show

      By R.K.O. - Wo oh oh oh

      To the late night, double feature, picture show

      In the back row - Oh oh oh oh

      To the late night, double feature, picture show

  9. knarf

    New BBC Program: MEGA TSUNAMI is coming by Passing Suns

    Hi it could work, we just need some fancy graphics and a few money grabbing scientists

    1. Dr. G. Freeman

      Re: New BBC Program: MEGA TSUNAMI is coming by Passing Suns

      Or what The BBC think are scientists- like the land whale on (in name only now) Sky at Night. or the guy the get in for the Horizon-light programs that isn't "super(s)tar(d)* Prof." Cox (Dallas something or other ?)

      (praying to any deity for some decent science programs on the BBC)

      *s or d depending on who you ask.

      1. David Given

        Re: New BBC Program: MEGA TSUNAMI is coming by Passing Suns

        If you mean Patrick Moore, I hope he's no longer hosting the programme, given that he died in 2012.

  10. David Harper 1

    No Boffin reference? For shame!

    I'm gravely disappointed that no mention was made of boffins in this article, given that one of the co-authors of the paper in ApJ Letters is Dr Henri Boffin.

    1. Tim Miltz

      Re: No Boffin reference? For shame!

      funny.

      I"m just surprised this event hasn't been linked to the Toba event also 70,000 years ago that spurred mass volcanic incidents on Earth.

    2. John Gamble
      Boffin

      Re: No Boffin reference? For shame!

      He's appeared here before: Boffin the boffin and his boffinry pals in double dwarf super-prang alert.

      Clearly we have not, as its sub-title asked, reached Peak Boffin yet.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So that's where the Silurians went to!

    They must have somehow hitched a ride as it passed by...

    1. earl grey Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: So that's where the Silurians went to!

      So next you're going to blame the lizard people....

  12. Cthugha

    Tower, this is Scholz's Star requesting a flyby.

    Negative, Scholz's Star, the pattern is full.

  13. Tim Miltz

    Maybe Toba catastropohe 70,000 years ago was connected to this.

    I recall the Toba catastrophe was also ABOUT 70,000 years ago, mass volcanic eruptions on Earth, dwindled human population down to a speculation 1,000 to 15,000 mating pairs total. Toba put Earth into a 1,000 year cool down phase.

    I can only wonder if the gravitational pull from these two binary stars might have been responsible.

    As to the second star that passed through, I read that near-infrared spectroscopy reveals subtle peculiarities indicating the presence of a T5 binary companion, and high-resolution laser guide star adaptive optics imaging reveals a faint (ΔH = 4.1) candidate source 0"14 (0.8 AU) from the primary.

    So the two binary stars here are about 0.8 AU away from each other. We don't know how fast one circles the other.

    I intuit that two stars passing through our solar system? at the same time ? near mass extinction on Earth due to to date- unknown causes for the volcanic eruptions ? have to be connected.

    If you do the math here too, says they are now 20 light years away, and were here 70,000 years ago, this works out to be about 1/3500th the speed of light as a velocity. Remembering velocity is as mass - that extreme velocity there + the mass of the stars themselves probably caused serious havoc as to gravitation influence in our solar system.

    I'm just amazed to think about this, what it must have looked like.

    REAL neat story.

    Tim Miltz

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: Maybe Toba catastropohe 70,000 years ago was connected to this.

      They can't have caused gravitational havoc in the Solar System for the simple reason that the Solar System remains stable. The models used by the authors predict that it had minimal effects on the Oort Cloud which is much closer and much more weakly bound to the Sun than the Earth, so there would have been an utterly neglible effect here on Earth.

      Toba erupted because that's what calderas do. It's big, but it's not even in the top ten caldera events known in the geological record let alone the numerous flood basalts out there which make Toba look like a firecracker.

    2. cray74

      Re: Maybe Toba catastropohe 70,000 years ago was connected to this.

      "If you do the math here too, says they are now 20 light years away, and were here 70,000 years ago, this works out to be about 1/3500th the speed of light as a velocity."

      Yep. Neat and quick calculation.

      "Remembering velocity is as mass - that extreme velocity there + the mass of the stars themselves probably caused serious havoc as to gravitation influence in our solar system."

      Relativistic mass increases only happen at a large percentage of light speed, not 1/3500th light speed. The mass multiplier M equals the original mass divided by the square root of (1 - v^2 / c^2), where c = light speed and v = the velocity of the mass in question.

      At 1/3500th light speed (0.000286c), the mass increase of the system is thus:

      M = Mo / sqrt [1 - (0.000286c)^2 / c^2 ]

      M = Mo / sqrt [1 - 0.000000082]

      M = Mo, if you ignore anything after the 7th decimal place

      So the questions become, "What are those rest masses and what are they going to do at 0.8 light-years (51,200AU) from the Solar system?"

      Answer 1: Well, Scholz's Star is 0.15x Sol's mass and its companion is lighter, a brown dwarf estimated to be 65 Jovian masses (0.065x Sol's mass). The pair orbit each other at 0.8AU, which - on the scale of the 51,200AU separation - is small enough that you can approximate them as a single mass of 0.215 Solar mass.

      Answer 2: Let's look at a sampling of planets at extremes of the solar system:

      1) Earth. Earth is 1AU from Sol and, basically, 51,200AU from Scholz & Co. Defining Sol's influence as 1, the inverse square relationship of gravitational force indicates Scholz & Co. will have 0.215 / (51200^2) = 8.2x10^-11 times the influence of Sol on Earth. Schultz's tidal effects, which follow an inverse cube relationship, will be 1.6x10^-15 times that of Sol. Jupiter's average tidal influence on Earth would be 5 billion times stronger than Scholz's. For that matter, a 747 full of American tourists flying over an ocean will probably generate larger tidal effects than Scholz.

      2) Pluto. (It's a planet, even if saddled with a derogatory 'little object' adjective.) Pluto is about 40AU from Sol versus 51200 AU from Scholz & Pal. Sol will exert 7,620,465 times the gravitational force on Pluto as Scholz and 10 billion times the tidal effects.

      I think it's fair to conclude Scholz didn't do much to the inner system - yet. In 2 million years we'll find out how dense the Oort cloud is and whether we're facing a made-for-SyFy disaster, Cometageddon.

      1. Christopher Lane

        Re: Maybe Toba catastropohe 70,000 years ago was connected to this.

        "For that matter, a 747 full of American tourists flying over an ocean will probably generate larger tidal effects than Scholz."

        If it's AMERICAN tourists you might want to bump up the mass and tidal affects up bit in your calculation...

  14. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Alien probes

    What the article didn't mention was all the alien space probes planted in the Oort Cloud, disguised as comets, which drop in to take a look at us every so often.

    There's an awful lot of monitoring power packed into what looks like a 100 metre ball of rock.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Alien probes

      "Nagios II - Son of Oort"

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Alien probes

        That's all I need out here in Ohio: Alien probes and ultra-chillies!

  15. Idocrase

    Making careful note of the star here, will be off to track it down on Elite tonight after work.

    1. David Given

      I couldn't find it in Space Engine, but I did find this picturesque red dwarf binary near where it should be:

      http://i.imgur.com/NQGxrg3.jpg

      (The planet and its moon are orbiting the bigger star on the left; the smaller star is on the right. There's also a bunch of planets orbiting the pair way further out which are too dark to take good pictures of.)

      It is, alas, wholly imaginary, and is procedurally generated.

  16. Florida1920 Silver badge

    Is it the FSM?

    I swear I see a face in that artist's impression.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. aliens

    What if..

    The grey aliens from Nibiru noticed the Neandertals on their close flyby, realizing the potential of a hominid species with reasonable intelligence "borrowed" an isolated population therefore causing the Neandertal's extinction and indirectly causing H.sapiens to be the only surviving species.

    Its just possible that the Wow! signal could have been deflected by a remnant black hole from this system to ours, assuming that the relocated Neandertals continued to evolve they would have reached a techological level comparable to ours around 1929 Earth time.

    The time delay from their system to ours would be about right and it wouldn't need to have been a continuous signal just a "Hi there!" to see if they got a response.

    They might not even have intended to send it as it could have been directed to another nearby system ie Gliese 581 or Alpha Orionis.

    1. Florida1920 Silver badge

      Re: Re. aliens

      The time delay from their system to ours would be about right and it wouldn't need to have been a continuous signal just a "Hi there!" to see if they got a response.

      More likely it would have been "So long, and eff-you for not sharing the fish."

  18. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    This might explain ...

    .... the hookups between homo sapiens and Neanderthals. "Hey babe. Looks like the end of the world is here. What do you say we see it off with a bang?"

    Paris, because this line might actually work given the opportunity.

  19. swodeam

    About the separation; I asked how you could get that sort of separation in only 70,000 years and I should have figured it out before asking. It's perfectly reasonable.

  20. sequester

    Pern anyone?

    The red planet was here ☺

    1. Hugh Pumphrey

      Re: Pern anyone?

      I ploughed into these comments with the assumption that I would be able to count tens of posts mentioning Pern, thread, dragons and so forth. I suppose it was just too obvious ...

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Pern anyone?

        Well we don't have any teleportating dragons so we're screwed anyway - too depressing to post about...

        On the other hand, we can make a lot of HNO3 (WFNA, RFNA), so maybe there's still hope?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Unhappy

      Re: Pern anyone?

      Sadly, I did before I got down to this post

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if anyone recorded the sighting

    Granted, we have very few artifacts from then...

  22. BurtReynolds1974

    Not to be picky, but Neanderthals were not a "prehumen" species, rather a separate species of hominid that died out, and that likely interbred with contemporary homo sapiens before doing so. Not sure if the science is conclusive on the interbreeding, but think it's as good as. A Neanderthal human could be born into the modern world and live quite happily. Doubt he'd get many dates, though.

  23. If nothing ever changed their would be no butterflies

    This is a great moment for those who believe human conciousness comes not from this planet. The study makes it clear how consciousness could have spread through the universe.

    Read http://www.evawaseerst.be/nibiru.htm

  24. Blizno

    Idiot

    "...Homo sapiens neanderthalensis strode or shambled or knuckled..." "...the prehuman simians..."

    Neanderthals were human beings, not "simians"! They did not "shamble" or "knuckle". They walked as fully upright as we do and their brains were larger than ours.

    I hope that the author was trying to be cute but the ignorance of these statements is shocking.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Idiot

      Yeah, this racial stereotyping and discrimination of Neanderthals is shocking and unacceptable.

      So much so, that I've decided to set up a Respect the Memory of the Neanderthal Benevolent Fund and will tell everyone where to send the donations shortly. It will be operated with full transparency and all donations will be used solely to remind me to respect the memory of the Neanderthals.

  25. jwillis84

    Modern George Pal epic.. call Netflix

    Bronson's Star.. When Worlds Collide

    Also points out, even if a Stellar invasion were immenent, we probably wouldn't see it until almost too late.

    The Radial velocity would be large, the tangential barely perceptable.

    Since most detection instruments pay attention to the latter not the former, we would have very little advance notice.

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