Astronomy

What would happen if a rogue planet hit one of the planets in our Solar System?

What would happen if a rogue planet hit one of the planets in our Solar System?


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As there are millions of rogue planets in the Milky Way, what would happen if one hit a planet in the Solar System.

For example, if the rogue planet hit Pluto, would Pluto fall in to the Sun due to to its gravity? What kind of catastrophic damage could it do in the Solar System?


It would depend entirely on the size, composition and trajectory of the two objects coming into the collision. They could annihilate each other leaving a mess of debris. Or one or both could survive the collisions in some form. And each of the surviving objects could be flung out of the solar system, flung into a spiral into the sun, flung into an elliptical orbit, or thrown into other objects. The space between planets is big so odds of direct and immediate collision of the "planets like billiard balls" variety you see on some sci-fi aren't likely. But anything the size of a planet would be seen well before any impact.


This really depends on the size, density and velocity the rogue planet was traveling before the collision and which planet it hit. As a side note, the possibility of this happening is quite rare.

If that rogue planet have sufficient velocity and under perfect conditions (such as the angle of collision), yes there is a possibility that it could reach the sun (bringing along with the 'planet' it collided say Pluto). The effect of that rogue planet would be enough to slightly disrupt other planets' orbit if it passes close and could disrupt the entire solar system. Pluto may not just fall to the sun based on the the pull of gravity, but also the velocity from the rouge planet.

Firstly addressing the 'sun' problem, yes if a sizable planet punches in to the sun, it'll create something like a mass coronal ejection which in return would bombard the solar system with harmful rays. Already this has affected the solar system.

If a sizable rouge planet hit one of the rocky planets such as Mars, large chunks of debris would come shooting out of the collision, a very high chance that a few pieces would land on Earth potentially creating another mass extinction; similarly to the other rocky planets such as Venus and Mercury. Similar to one of the solar system's gas giants if say, another gas giant hit it.

To summaries this, even a rogue planet entering our system would have already changed a few things not to mention a collision.


There are lot of ifs, buts, sizes, etc to answer: - Any sizable objects entering our solar system will disturb our orbital 'equilibrium'. - First the empty space between the planets is huge, So very unlikely a rogue planet will collide with a solar system planet but once it has entered in to the solar system gravity well it sure headed towards Sun. No 'Deep Impact' or 'Armageddon' please. - Second the rogue planet will have a high probability to alter the Oort Cloud objects sending them our way with multiple results. - Third it may get captured by the gas giants(Triton/Neptune). - Fourth if the rogue planets escapes the gas giants it will encounter Asteroid Belt altering the orbits there.

Finally any interaction direct or indirect with the inner planets is going to be catastrophic. Just think about the magnitude of tsunamis if a earth size planet comes anywhere close to us.


Long Shot: Planet Could Hit Earth in Distant Future

Our solar system has a potentially violent future. New computer simulations reveal as light chance that a disruption of planetary orbits could lead to a collision of Earth with Mercury, Mars or Venus in the next few billion years.

Despite its diminutive size, Mercury poses the greatest risk to the solar system's order.Results of the computer model show a roughly 1 percent chance that the elongation of Mercury's orbit will increase to the point where the planet's path around the sun crosses that of Venus. That's when planetary pandemonium would ensue, the researchers find, and Mercury could be ejected from the solar system, or collide with the sun or a neighboring planet, such as Earth.

The potential smash-ups, however remote, are detailed in the June 11 issue of the journal Nature.

"I seethe results as a case of the glass being 99 percent full and 1 percent empty,"said Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz. "While it's possible that a collision could occur billions of years from now, it's actually very unlikely." Laughlin was not involved in the current study but wrote an accompanying analysis of the research in Nature.

Solarsystem bang-ups

The researchers, Jacques Laskar and Mickael Gastineau of the Paris Observatory, ran computer simulations involving 2,501 scenarios with different planetary orbits.

While most of the outcomes don't involve any crashes, about 25 led to a large disruption of Mercury's orbit. If the increase in elongation of Mercury's orbit results in its collision with the sun or with Venus, the simulations showed the rest of the solar system wouldn't be affected much.

But in some less likely scenarios, the change to Mercury's orbit leads to a total destabilization of the inner solar system (the terrestrial planets) in about 3.3 billion years, possibly triggering collisions of Mercury, Mars or Venus with Earth.

"The most surprising outcome is the destabilization of the orbit of Earth and Venus," Laskar said during a telephone interview.

The result is a Venus-Earth bang-up.

"You first need Mercury to be destabilized by gravitational interaction with Jupiter," Laskar said. "Then this may destabilize Mars, which then can come very close to the Earth. Only then can you have destabilization of Venus'orbit and a collision with the Earth."

When the researchers looked at different cases involving this close approach of Mars and Earth, they found that five set-ups would lead to Mars being flung out of the solar system. And in nearly 200 of the cases, two celestial bodies will collide? 48 of which involve Earth.

Close encounters

While planet orbits might seem stable today, they aren't. And over billions of years,they are less so. Basically, the planets can perturb one another through gravitational interactions. Astronomers say that in the distant past, some of the planets of our solar system could have been on significantly different orbits and migrated to their present locations.

And as the sun ages, it is expected to swell and lose mass previous studies have shown that could have significant effects on the planets in the next 7 billion years or so. Earth might be vaporized when this happens, or it might ? with a gravitational assist from a passing star ? be booted right out of the solar system. A study in 2001 by Laughlin, then at NASA, and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan put the odds of the Earth being ejected at one-in-100,000.

Meanwhile,as planets move around, close encounters (especially with larger worlds like Jupiter) could fling them on wildly new trajectories.

Evidence for such melees has been found in exoplanetary systems, including one in which the object 2M1207B may have formed from the collision and merger of two planets. Our own moon was created when a Mars-sized object hit Earth about 4 billion years ago, theorists figure.

Strongest evidence

The new model results provide the strongest evidence to date of the solar system's future in this regard. "These are the first calculations that really answer the question of the long-term stability of the solar system in a truly definitive way," Laughlin told SPACE.com.

That's because Laskar and Gastineau's model relies on non-averaged equations and accounts for general relativity.

Previous models were based on averaged equations for planetary motion and didn't include the effects of general relativity. When considering planets that are about to collide, such equations don't work well to make accurate predictions. And it turns out general relativity, or the effect of gravity on time and space, does play a role in the crash scenarios.

Here's how:"Mercury's orbit is a slightly elongated ellipse. The sun lies at one of the foci of the ellipse, not at the center," Laughlin said."Over long periods of time (of the order 100,000 years), the orientation of Mercury's orbit rotates like a clock hand. General Relativity acts to speedup this clock-hand-like rotation, and this decreases the odds that Jupiter can drive large changes in Mercury's orbit."


Gravitation and its effects on planets

By now, most of us understand that gravitation is the force applied by any object having mass by which it attracts objects towards it. Every object with mass attracts other objects with gravitational force. The greater the mass of the objects, the greater the force. The distance between two objects also plays a huge role in determining their gravitational impact. Greater distances cause a weakening of the gravitational force between two objects.

The gravitational constant G is a key quantity in Newton&rsquos law of universal gravitation. (Photo Credit : Dna-Dennis/Wikimedia Commons)

Let&rsquos now increase the scale to that of our entire solar system. Each planet has a weight that is greater than 10^23 kg and the distances between each planet is also impressively vast. Planets do effectively influence each other&rsquos gravity, but only by a fractional amount. The real driving force for gravity in the solar system is our Sun, which dictates planetary orbits. A disappearance of the Sun would result in chaos throughout the solar system.

So, with gravity&mdashthe main force existing in space&mdashplaying a side role in the interaction of planets, it becomes a question of which planet&rsquos disappearance would have the most negative effect.

Effect of the disappearance of various planets in the solar system

The effect of the disappearance of a single planet comes down to the planet that actually disappears!

Let&rsquos go through them one at a time.

Mercury: Mercury is the first and smallest of all the planets in our solar system (again, unless you still count Pluto). It is closest to the Sun and its gravity is heavily influenced by the Sun. Mercury&rsquos disappearance would cause negligible changes to the solar system&rsquos order. The small size of the planet and its proximity to the Sun causes it to be merely a speck in the solar system.

Mercury&rsquos disappearance would cause negligible changes to the solar system&rsquos order. (Photo Credit : Mopic/Shutterstock)

Venus: Venus is the second planet of the solar system and is commonly hailed as Earth&rsquos twin. It&rsquos also the second-brightest object in the night sky after the Moon itself. The loss of Venus would not have many cosmological effects, but it would certainly hurt the night sky, as we would lose our &ldquomorning star&rdquo.

Earth: By this time, we should all be familiar with Earth. After all, Earth is our terra firma, our home! Earth is the only one of more than 4,050 planets we have discovered to harbor life. What would happen if the Earth suddenly disappeared? Well, for one thing, nobody would be able to read this article.

Mars: Mars, also known as the Red Planet, is the fourth planet of the Solar System. The Red Planet has received a lot of interest from humans, evidenced by our 56 exploratory missions to Mars. If Mars vanishes, the threat of near-Earth asteroids decreases significantly. The Asteroid Belt, a massive belt of asteroids that lies between Mars and Jupiter, actually poses the greatest threat to Earth.

Asteroids from the asteroid belt pose a great danger to our planet. (Photo Credit : Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock)

The asteroids are firmly held by Jupiter&rsquos gravity, but sometimes, due to an effect called gravity resonance, they get pushed out of orbit. The Sun, exerting its huge gravity on this anomaly, pulls the asteroid towards it. Here, Mars&rsquo gravity comes into play. Mars acts as a slingshot and hurtles the asteroids towards Earth. Even though these asteroids may fly by with several million miles to spare, Mars does increase the probability of Earth-bound asteroids.

Jupiter: Jupiter is the fifth and largest of all the planets in our solar system. The vastness of Jupiter allows it to have a commanding gravitational force over the objects near it. It is also considered to be Earth&rsquos big brother, protecting it from space bullies. Indeed, Jupiter has protected Earth from countless asteroids over the past few billion years. The biggest planet in the solar system has a gravitational field that is vast and strong that it can derail the asteroids bound for Earth and cast them out of the solar system. Long-range comets frequently crash into the behemoth Jupiter, leaving some impressive scars. Jupiter&rsquos massive gravity is also what keeps the asteroids in the Asteroid Belt in check. In terms of the order of the solar system, Jupiter&rsquos disappearance wouldn&rsquot have any noticeable changes. Some effects would be seen later on, but that would take thousands of years!

Saturn: Saturn is the sixth planet of the solar system and the second largest member. Most people recognize Saturn by its beautiful set of rings, which makes it look quite majestic. Saturn also has 62 moons, one of which is Titan, with a size greater than Mercury! Saturn&rsquos disappearance would affect the orbits of Jupiter and Uranus by some degree, due to its sheer size and mass. However, given its distance from the inner ring of planets, it&rsquos tough to imagine that Saturn would have a similar impact on the smaller inner planets.

Uranus: Uranus is the third-largest planet in the Solar System and lies much too far away to affect the inner ring of planets, but it definitely affects the outer ring of the solar system, including the Kuiper Belt. The only thing we would miss are all the Uranus jokes.

Neptune: Neptune is the final planet in our solar system. Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt, an asteroid belt, and many dwarf planets, including Pluto. Neptune dominantly controls the orbits and movements of objects in the Kuiper Belt with its gravity, as the Sun&rsquos gravity is considerably less in these far extremes of the Solar System. Neptune also has a huge effect on Pluto&rsquos orbit. Its disappearance could cause chaos and collisions in the Kuiper Belt, and would also affect Pluto, but its distance from the inner ring would result in negligible changes to us on Earth.


How Earth Will Be Destroyed If A Second Sun Enters Solar System [VIDEO]

A video explained what would happen if a star as massive as the Sun enters the Solar System. According to the video, this would trigger a series of catastrophic events that would eventually destroy Earth.

A video recently released by the YouTube channel What If explored the idea of a rogue star moving across space to enter Earth’s neighborhood. Once this happens, the star would first pass through a region filled with icy space rocks near the edges of the Solar System known as the Oort cloud.

Depending on the size of the star, its gravitational force would affect the movement of the space rocks and send them hurtling toward the inner regions of the Solar System. As explained in the video, this event could send hundreds of space rocks to hit Earth on a daily basis.

“The rogue star would make its way into the Oort cloud,” the narrator of the video explained. “At this point, it wouldn’t affect us directly, but it would send massive chunks of space rocks showering the Solar System. About 170 meteors, comets and asteroids would hit the Earth every day. That’s ten times more than what’s bombarding our planet right now.”

Unfortunately, getting pelted by meteors and asteroids every day won’t be the worst effect caused by the sudden appearance of a second sun in the Solar System. If a star as big as or even bigger than the Sun appears, it would most likely drag its own system composed of planets and moons.

During such an event, the orbits of the planets within the Solar System would be disrupted, which could cause them to crash into one another. If Earth manages to survive a direct collision with a planet or a moon, it would most likely get hit by asteroids or the huge chunks of debris that came from the massive cosmic objects that were already destroyed.

“If the rogue star had other planets and moons following it, our Solar System would turn into a galactic soup, with stars and planets being pulled out of their orbits,” the video stated. “Massive collisions would create a rippling effect, disrupting planetary orbits even more. Eventually, the Earth would be knocked out of its orbit too, if it wasn’t already destroyed by meteor storms and the remnants of other planets.”

An illustrated model shows our solar system and its planets. Photo: NASA/JPL


What would happen if a rogue planet hit one of the planets in our Solar System? - Astronomy

I was wondering what would happen if you were to remove your space helmet in space and tried to take a quick breath. Believe it or not this question was a hot debate item recently at work.

Oh, I believe it. Even most astronomers don't know what would happen. NASA, however, does know. Occasionally during astronaut training, an astronaut's helmet accidentally comes loose in a vacuum chamber or something like that. (They always survive, by the way.)

When you're exposed to vacuum, the air in your lungs is forced out through your mouth. After that, you should be able to make breathing motions normally, but there will of course be no air to breathe. You will not experience any exploding eyeballs or embolisms like you see in the movies, although you may experience the Bends (this is when your blood boils). You'll also feel the spit on your tongue and sweat on your body boil away. It's described as a fizzy feeling, like drinking soda. Otherwise, you don't feel very much. Until you die of oxygen deprivation, that is.

Page last updated on June 24, 2015.

About the Author

Dave Kornreich

Dave was the founder of Ask an Astronomer. He got his PhD from Cornell in 2001 and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Physical Science at Humboldt State University in California. There he runs his own version of Ask the Astronomer. He also helps us out with the odd cosmology question.


4 Answers 4

Cold, really really cold, imagine the coldest winter you can remember, it's going to be colder than that, a lot colder, honestly it's going to be really cold, so cold you can't imagine how cold it's going to be.

Lets just say extra socks & a bobble hat aren't going to be much help.

Year by year? it wouldn't even take one year, assuming you start by moving away from the sun you'll be in a new ice age colder than any before it long before you get half way to the orbit of Mars.

Yes, it'll look like ice, what else would it look like.

The only place you've any real possibility of life persisting for a bit is going to be in close proximity to an active geothermal of some sort. Yellowstone for instance might provide a haven for a few humans for a bit longer than elsewhere on the planet.

Earth pretty much looked like this not so very long ago:

Welcome to Snowball Earth, some 650 million or more years ago. And this happened within the Goldilocks Zone!

Rogue Earth probably won't end up looking like a cue ball, simply because absent the Sun's influence, there won't be much weather. Whatever's in the atmosphere will rain or snow until Earth is far enough away that incoming solar energy no longer affects ocean currents and winds. Eventually, the surface will just be nut (and bolt!) freezing temperatures and rapidly diminishing amounts of incoming heat and light. Bad news for us.

Liquid water would likely persist in the oceans, meaning those buggers that live deep down won't even notice that us surface dwellers have turned into ice cubes.

How quickly depends on several factors:

  • Where Earth is, at the time of its ejection, with respect to the direction of the Sun's travel around the Galaxy
  • Which direction Earth gets ejected (this is very important, because if Earth is ejected in the wrong direction, it will just plummet into the Sun and your whole project will be moot)
  • How fast Earth is traveling

Rogue planets can zip right along, and if Earth is positioned "behind" the Sun's direction of travel and gets ejected back the way it came and at speed, we could be waving bye-bye to the Sun pretty quickly! If we end up heading in the Sun's direction, perhaps we won't notice much difference?

Nothing would happen for a while, assuming we're talking about Sun just disappearing overnight. You can even demonstrably witness what happens with 12 hours of no sunlight in the Equator (or during polar night in the Arctic, for that matter). The primary reason for this is the vast amount of water.

We can, however, give some ballpark estimate [*] for the speed of process.

If the Sun would just disappear Earth would begin to cool at a rate of roughly 300 W/m². Now, Earth is not an ideal blackbody and temperature is not uniform, but in terms of estimates, well, close enough. This is equivalent to having a 1 mm layer of water drop 1 Kelvin in temperature in ca. 14 seconds (1 mm of water per square meter = 1 kg of water).

Tropics have an ocean mixing layer of roughly 1000 meters and average water temperature (in that layer) of something like 20 C, so if we exclude currents and atmospheric convection it would take $frac<1000 ext><0.001 ext> cdot 14 ext < s/K>cdot 20 ext sim 10$ years before tropical oceans would begin to freeze over.

Now, this is not what would happen, but it gives some insight on the speed of the process.

In reality things are much more complicated: Solar energy received in Equator is partly transferred in ocean and atmospheric convection to polar latitudes. If we assume hurricane-ish type energy transfer, we could be looking at something like extra 10-100 W per square meter of ocean, add ocean currents for 200-300 watts extra, and we'd still end up with a time window that is closer to few years rather than few weeks.

Now, on land, on the other hand. We might be talking of an equivalent of several meters of water. So it would take perhaps a month, considering energy transfer by the atmosphere, to turn land into inhabitable snowfield and another month or two to make it uncomfortable for the Nordics or Canadians. This is naturally talking in averages, so locally it could be better. or much worse.

In terms of freezing, enthalpy of fusion of water is roughly 333 kJ per kilogram, much higher compared to heat capacity of 4.2 kJ/kg $cdot$ K. Therefore, assuming no geothermal energy, it would still take in order of centuries to have an ice-sheet in tropics that would measure in kilometers.

[*] Correct to few orders of magnitude. If lucky, then an order of magnitude.


Where did ‘Planet Nine’ come from?

A year ago, astronomers announced evidence for the existence of an undiscovered planet hiding out in the boonies of our solar system. Nobody’s found the mystery world yet, but that hasn’t stopped scientists from speculating about how such a planet could have gotten there.

New simulations, presented this week at the American Astronomical Science meeting, suggest that it may have once been a rogue planet, stolen by our sun.

If it’s out there, Planet Nine is expected to be 10 times the size of Earth and 1,000 times farther from the sun. By comparison, Pluto is about 40 times farther than Earth, so Planet Nine is a pretty big outlier. How did it get so far away?

There’s a chance it was just born out there in the middle of nowhere. But the duo leading the search for Planet Nine—astronomer Mike Brown and astrophysicist Konstantin Batygin from Caltech—think it’s an outcast. According to their theory, Planet Nine formed close to the sun, like our other planets, but the neighborhood was crowded, so Planet Nine got bumped out—way out.

Another possibility is that we kidnapped it. Planet Nine may have started as a rogue planet, wandering the universe without a star to orbit, before our solar system’s gravity captured it.

James Vesper and Paul Mason from New Mexico State University recently simulated what would happen if rogue planets of various sizes and trajectories encountered our solar system. They ran 156 simulations and found that 60 percent of the time, the rogue planet got booted out by our solar system—sometimes taking one of our own planets with it. But the other 40 percent of the time, the rogue was captured and stayed in orbit.

Vesper and Mason haven’t yet published their findings.

An earlier study suggested that compared to other theories, there’s a less than 2 percent chance Planet Nine is a captured rogue. So the verdict is still out on where Planet Nine came from, but hopefully this riddle will be solved—assuming it exists, and assuming that we can actually find it.


Aurorae on Jupiter

In the outer reaches of our solar system, astronomers have seen aurorae on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The aurorae on these gas giant planets likely have similar mechanisms, though Uranus and Neptune have only been visited by spacecraft once.

Of all of them, Jupiter is home to the most spectacular light show in the solar system, as the Hubble Space Telescope has shown us in exquisite detail. Its aurorae are absolutely massive in size thanks to a magnetosphere some 20,000 times stronger than Earth's.

They also never stop. While Earth’s aurorae get their spark solely from the Sun, Jupiter also gets hit with a steady dose of charged particles from its volcano moon, Io.

Hubble watched the aurorae over an extended and especially active period back in 2016 that happened to coincide with the Juno orbiter’s arrival at Jupiter. As Hubble watched the planet, the arriving probe measured the solar wind. Together, the spacecraft brought new insights about how Jupiter’s aurorae respond to charged particles from the Sun.

A new study released in March 2021 brought additional insights. Before the Juno probe arrived, astronomers could only watch aurorae on the daytime side of Jupiter. And as the spacecraft watched Jupiter’s nighttime side, it spotted the emergence of extremely bright aurorae called “dawn storms.” These storms produce hundreds of times more energy than a nuclear reactor does on Earth. And for the first time, this new study tracked storms from their origins on the nighttime side of the planet through their entire evolution to the daytime side.

It turns out, they form much like a kind of aurorae on Earth called auroral substorms. Here, they’re caused by sudden and “explosive” reconfigurations of our planet’s magnetosphere as the solar wind varies. But on Jupiter, the process is likely tied to changes in the plasma streaming off Io.


The Future

Large telescope facilities may help us best determine which planets didn’t start out like planets, or find objects intermediate between a planet and a brown dwarf. “We’ve found lots of things that immediately straddle across that boundary,” Morley says. Figuring out which is which will require intensive observations, and will maybe turn up a few oddities along the way.

But the era of big telescopes could end up further blurring the line between a “traditional” planet and something that simply superficially resembles one according to our best understanding of planetary formation. We may also confirm planets that formed in traditional ways but were radically transformed.

There are a few suspected “Chthonian planets” which formed as gas giants but had their gas envelope removed, leaving behind a dense rocky planet. The “what makes a planet” debate is old — and the coming decades will settle a few questions but possibly open up so many more. After all, in a seemingly endless universe, what other oddities are hiding out there somewhere?