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Space Science

Nemesis, the Sun's Binary Star Companion? 271

Posted by Zonk
from the burning-brother dept.
0xC2 writes "The Binary Companion or 'Nemesis' theory asserts that a yet-to-be discovered companion to our Sun may actually exist. Recent observations of two nearby stars (assumed companions) show debris disks 'strikingly like the Kuiper Belt int the outer part of our Solar System'. The Binary Research Institute site is devoted to the theory, and presents a concise introduction, list of evidence, and sample calculations in support of the theory. A fascinating read, although the physics and related calculations are not trivial." Has the 'unique theory on the internet' vibe to it, but interesting nonetheless.
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Nemesis, the Sun's Binary Star Companion?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:49PM (#14524385)
    Isn't that Microsoft? Oops... Wrong article...
  • I sense an evil twin joke coming on.....
    • by Mr. Bad Example (31092) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @03:41AM (#14525205) Homepage
      > I sense an evil twin joke coming on.....

      I bet Nemesis looks exactly like the Sun, but with a stylish 200,000-mile-wide Evil Spock goatee.

    • What if we have the left, or "sinister" twin, and they accidentally switched them at birth? I sure our real Sun would be pretty pissed about being locked in the attic all these years eating nothing but fish heads.

      Let's see....a pun AND a Simpson's reference...that should be worth at least a 3! :-P
  • by MustardMan (52102) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:49PM (#14524390)
    On a scale of "faked moon landing" to "electric universe", I rate this 'theory' a solid "roswell alien autopsy"
    • Is your Internet BS pseudo-science scale protected by some form of intellectual property law? I would very much like to use it to make some jokes with, but I don't want to run into any problems by infringing on your intellectual property.

      Thank you,
    • by zippthorne (748122) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:43PM (#14524597) Journal
      I'd put it closer to "Da Vinci Code" on the scale.
    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:46PM (#14524614)
      You laugh, but this guy has written his own book and everything. According to the summary of his book:

      Ancient folklore from around the world rings with two resonating themes: History moves in cycles with alternating Golden and Dark Ages, and the slow movement of the stars across the sky, the Precession of the Equinox, is the cause and timekeeper of these cycles. For years we have heard that these are only myths, there was no Golden Age and precession is just a wobbling of the Earth's axis. Now "Lost Star of Myth and Time" shows evidence the Ancients were not just weaving fanciful tales - science is on the verge of an amazing discovery - our Sun has a companion star carrying us through a great cycle of stellar influences. If true, it means the Ancients were right and our views of space and time and the history of civilization will never be the same. More than that, it would mean we are now at the dawn of a new age in human development and world conditions.

      And the book gets a rave review from none other than the influential LA Yoga Magazine. You can't argue with a major astrophysical journal like that (http://www.loststarbook.com/ [loststarbook.com]). Clearly, this man and his theories demand to be taken seriously. Thank you, Zonk, for continuing to bring us only the finest in science journalism.

    • I have to pass this one off on the folks over at the Bad Astronomy and Universe Today forum: Nemesis: BS or what? [bautforum.com]

      This theory has been in the BS category for quite a while. Leave it to Slashdot, though...
    • I disagree! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Phil Urich (841393)
      I recall reading a book (which had been published sometime in the 80s, if I recall, but I've been beating myself up for 15 minutes over it yet can remember no title) written by a rather respected science writer (again, damn my memory!). The book was a rather higher-level book attempting to be a comprehensive study of dinosaurs and Paleontology. Much of the last little bit naturally dealt with the death of the Dinosaurs, and more strikingly the fact that every ~30 million years there's a major catastrophe
      • The "every 30 millions years" thing is not fully accepted yet - so to try to base a physics theory on it is completely asinine. That's like modifying quantum mechanics to explain the presense of bigfoot.
  • by RequiemX (926964) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:50PM (#14524393)
    01010011011010000110111101101111011101000010000100 100000010101110110010100100000 01101100011010010111011001100101001000000110100101 101110001000000110000100100000 01100010011010010110111001100001011100100111100100 100000011100110111100101110011 01110100011001010110110100111111
  • cool! (Score:3, Funny)

    by patcito (932676) on Friday January 20, 2006 @10:53PM (#14524406)
    As the slashdot crowd is pretty much clueless about astronomy I expect lots of Funny rated comments to hide our ignorance on the subject, right guys?
    • Actually, the understanding of astronomy to explain why this "theory" is utter bullshit isn't really what you need. What you DO need is an understanding of classical mechanics. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one here who knows enough classical mechanics to see the faults in their arguments in about 5 seconds.

      As an aside, an understanding of nonlinear dynamics is also helpful to see various other flaws in their reasoning.
      • Actually, the understanding of astronomy to explain why this "theory" is utter bullshit isn't really what you need. What you DO need is an understanding of classical mechanics. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one here who knows enough classical mechanics to see the faults in their arguments in about 5 seconds.

        Do you realize that binary star systems are not at all rare? In many cases one of the pair is not detectable by visible light because it is a brown dwarf or some other hard to detect case. So what
        • Re:cool! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MustardMan (52102) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @12:08AM (#14524704)
          Yes I do realize binary star systems are not rare. Not detecting it by visible light is exactly WHY classical mechanics comes into play - all you're really doing is dealing with a bunch of forces that go like 1/r^2. Investigating it for the sake of completeness is certainly not folly - however the arguments on the website linked in the article are nonsense.

          I can't find it again at the moment - but I saw somewhere that they implied that the inaccuracy of predictions in precession over time was a result of our current theories being flawed, and that the binary theory somehow magically removed this inaccuracy. This is an example of the utter bullshit that anyone with an understanding of nonlinear dynamics would notice immediately. You're dealing with a many-body system here. That's inherently chaotic. That means, it's exponentially sensitive to initial conditions. Therefore, as time goes on your results get worse and worse due to small measurement errors in your initial conditions. NO MODEL can remove this effect and still claim to use newtonian physics - the equations are nonlinear and involve more than three objects interacting - therefore the equations of motion are chaotic. Period.

          OF COURSE YOU CAN GET MORE ACCURATE RESULTS WHEN YOU PUT IN AN IMAGINARY EXTRA OBJECT - you can TUNE the parameters of this object arbitrarily to try to fit the experimental data. If I collect a bunch of data from all kinds of experiments, I can easily find a tenth order polynomial and get a very accurate fit to the data. This is also completely meaningless because all those fit parameters have no physical meaning.
          • Yeah, but if all those "fit parameters" happen to correspond to a body with a plausible mass and velocity, then it becomes harder to dismiss as having no physical meaning.

            I'm not saying that the precession data point to such a body, but I think it was exactly the kind of logic that you decry that led to the discovery of Pluto.
          • but I saw somewhere that they implied that the inaccuracy of predictions in precession over time was a result of our current theories being flawed, and that the binary theory somehow magically removed this inaccuracy. This is an example of the utter bullshit that anyone with an understanding of nonlinear dynamics would notice immediately. You're dealing with a many-body system here. That's inherently chaotic.

            Uh ? Certainly you're aware that Neptune was discovered by calculations based on the anomalous traje [wikipedia.org]
            • but saying that inacurracies in many-bodies problems cannot be exploited for discovering new things is just plain wrong.

              And that's not what I said. I said claiming your theory removes the buildup of inaccuracies over time is just plain wrong. That is a fundamental feature of nonlinear equations, and no new object could ever be added to remove it.

              Of course you can discover new planets based on the idea of a perturbation to the already assumed solution. You're talking about a minor increase in accuracy tho
          • Re:cool! (Score:3, Interesting)

            by steve_bryan (2671)
            You're dealing with a many-body system here. That's inherently chaotic.

            Take a look at Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics by Sussman and Wisdom. On page 255 they mention a published result from 1964 by Henon and Heiles. They found some trajectories were chaotic while others are regular. More specifically they found the solutions clustered in phase space into regions of regular and regions of chaotic motion. In other words I believe you are leaning too heavily on popular notions of nonlinear
            • I wrote my undergraduate thesis, in physics, in nonlinear dynamics - I'm pretty familiar with the subject ;)

              Yes, a nonlinear system has the ability to exhibit regions of chaotic behavior and regions that are non-chaotic. As the simplest example, consider the logistic map, and the famous bifurcation diagram. For low values of the parameter, you get nice periodic behavior no matter what initial number you feed in. As you increase the paramter you move into regions which are chaotic, but still contain those
    • Re:cool! (Score:5, Funny)

      by ScentCone (795499) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:02PM (#14524438)
      As the slashdot crowd is pretty much clueless about astronomy I expect lots of Funny rated comments to hide our ignorance on the subject, right guys?

      You'd like to think so, wouldn't you? But as everyone knows, this is a matter for astrologers, which you clearly are not. Otherwise you'd know that making jokes about jokers joking to obscure their ignorance is itself merely a joke of an argument, so we cannot, even jokingly, take the argument in front of you.
  • by Mrs. Grundy (680212) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:03PM (#14524442) Homepage
    Scientific Amercian ran a story several years ago about this. One of the pet theories at the time was that periodic extinctions (which haven't been proven periodic) were caused by objects like comets getting kicked out of the Oort every now and then which could in turn be explained by just such a neighbor star. Nasa has a (very short) page here: Imagine the Universe [nasa.gov]
  • Not likely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Belseth (835595) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:08PM (#14524458)
    An actual brown dwarf isn't likely given scarce evidence but there seems to be reason to believe there are one or more large Kupier Belt objects yet to be found. I've read about gravitational anomalies for years now but they just don't seem large enough to indicate a failed star close enough to call us a near miss binary system. I guess if all the outer planets merged we'd have the makings of a brown dwarf but as we are the system seems to be one of those rare single star systems.
    • Re:Not likely (Score:3, Interesting)

      by arminw (717974)
      .....as we are the system seems to be one of those rare single star systems......

      Good thing for us that there isn't another object the mass of the sun within about 3.8 light years of earth. Even as it is, the planets do influence one another's orbits, but their masses and spacing are such as to keep the earth's orbit from getting too elliptical. Because of the nearly circular orbit, the distance to the sun is constant enough keep the temperature within the bounds needed for life. Another object approaching
      • The nearest star to earth is Alpha Centauri, a nice safe 4.2 light years distant.

        Actually, it's Proxima Centauri (we're not yet sure whether that orbits Alpha Centauri A/B). </pedant>

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:10PM (#14524470)
    ... could we possibly find the outer planets by observing their influence on the inner planets' orbits, if there were a freaking brown dwarf in the neighborhood that we didn't know about?

    Something like that would've ruined Kepler's whole day.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      If you mean the detection of Neptune and Pluto by calculation, those calculations predicted amazingly accurately where both those planets would be found... considering that they had numerous errors in them.

      They kept looking for Pluto because Neptune kept exhibiting weirdness. Pluto wasn't anywhere near the size they were looking for. I'm not sure if they eventually decided that all those calculations were erroneous or whether there are really perturbations in Neptune and Uranus' orbit that could be caused
    • The proposed distance for Nemesis is of the order of 1 light year, so it isn't exactly "close".

      Given bounds on its probable mass, brightness, and distance, it is a reasonable possibility that such an object wouldn't have been observed yet. However, there also aren't strong reasons to postulate its existence either, so most people assume nothing's there.
    • by SEE (7681) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @03:02PM (#14527712) Homepage
      Brown dwarfs max out at about 29,000 Earth masses, and the distance of Nemesis wuld be no closer than a light-year or so (63,000 AU). Gravity follows an inverse-square of the distance law.

      The Earth masses divided by approximate average AU distance squared value for the pull of Neptune's gravity on Uranus is ~0.02, with a max at closest approach of ~0.14. The equivalent value for the pull of Nemesis on Uranus is ~0.000007.

      So, the average gravitational pull of Neptune on Uranus is about three thousand times greater than the pull of Nemesis, if it exists, on Uranus. The pull of the Earth on Uranus works out to about three hundred and fifty times the pull of a maximum-size Nemesis on Uranus. This means the pull of Nemesis on the solar system is so low as to be lost in the noise of orbital measurement and planetary mass estimate errors.
  • by MustardMan (52102) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:21PM (#14524508)
    The summary states...

    Recent observations of two nearby stars (assumed companions)

    Whereas the space.com article states...

    Each of the two disks has a sharp outer edge that might be caused by an unseen companion star

    READ THAT AGAIN FOLKS - they are NOT assuming these two stars are companions. They are NOT a binary star system. They are simply two stars that have similar disks as our own solar system. They think a POSSIBLE cause for these disks MIGHT be an unseen companion, but NO unseen companion has been seen. This discovery leads NO MORE CREDIBILITY to the nemesis "theoory" whatsover - all it says is that there are other stars with similar structures to our own. The cause of this structure has not been observed.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Twins are hot!
  • by PieSquared (867490) <isosceles2006 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:24PM (#14524516)
    At the distances involved (in the outer reaches of the kupier belt, about a light year), I guess we wouldn't really notice anything but a brighter star, but I still don't really think this is a possibility. Do the math: v=sqrt(Gm/r) where G is 6.67*10^-11, m is the mass of our sun, and r is the distance between them... 1.21746415*10^-6 meters per second orbital velocity. That's about one meter every 9.5 earth years. Anyone else think that seems a bit... unlikley? Also, the of gravity between the earth and the sun is about 1000 times as strong as with another star of the sun's mass one light year away. I don't think such a system would be stable, as a large astroid passing close to one might well pull it enough out of "orbit," if you can call such a small speed "orbit," so that you'd notice it was no longer binary. For the record, at one AU distance, it would take the system 5.64701404*10^17 years for an orbit. That's like 10 order of magnitude longer then the sun's life span.
    • The outer reaches of the Kuiper belt are nothing like a light-year away. They're around 50 Astronomical Units, 1/4000 of a light-year.

      Also, note that there are stars that orbit each other that far apart. So your intution has led you astray.
      • But are there stars orbiting that distance with planetary systems? I would think that such proximity would perturb the hell out of whatever was there. The only analogue I can think of is the earth-moon system, where the only satellites are artificial and maintiained by active thrusting. (and maybe pluto-charon, but we won't know much more about that for a decade)
        • At that distance, the planet systems are probably OK. You get distruption with closer binaries, but a light-year is pretty far out. A factor of 4000 in distances leads to a factor of 16 million in gravitational accelerations, after all.

          Even in the Earth-Moon system, the Moon's effects on satellites is minor. (Drag from the atmosphere is a far bigger player and the main need for thrusters in most cases.)
    • by miro f (944325)
      For the record, at one AU distance, it would take the system 5.64701404*10^17 years for an orbit. That's like 10 order of magnitude longer then the sun's life span.

      you might have to check your maths there. I haven't checked the validity of your other calculations but considering you let this whopper through I can probably dismiss them all as false, since it doesn't lend you much credability. Anyone with a basic grasp of astrophysics would know that an orbit at a distance 1 AU around our Sun takes exactly
    • There must be something wrong with your math... the reason they picked an orbit that far out was because the star needs to have a 20-30 million year orbit. An orbit that's 10^17 years doesn't fit.
  • by BadEvilYoda (935532) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:32PM (#14524550)
    Isaac Asimov has a novel with this exact premise, written in 1989, titled Nemesis (as if you expected something different). "Evil" companion star for the sun which caused all the mass extinctions, etc. Of course, in the novel there are multiple civilizations, a battle over whether Earth should be saved, etc... but the basic premise is the same. 17 years later, still just as fictional as it was then.
  • What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:36PM (#14524564) Homepage
    You don't need a companion to produce a sharp edge in the Kuiper belt. Simulations have shown that. Anyone who makes the assertion that the edges suggest such a thing ought to have at least become familiar with that research.

    Furthermore, the analogy to Saturn's rings is, I suspect, misleading. The moons that directly shape the outer edge of the A ring are close to the ring and small. (They are tied to other moons via resoances so the whole system is strung together, but that's not what's being argued for here.) A star would be much more massive than the Kuiper belt and would seriously disrupt the system rather than maintain it. (It would also be pretty obvious if it were just beyond the orbit of the outer edge of the Kuiper belt. We'd feel it here, for a start.) A more distant star might be able to hold back the edge of the belt with a resonance, but that's a different thing. And odds are that such a companion would destroy a belt more readily than maintain it. (Look at Jupiter and the asteroid belt.)

    It should also be noted that 300 million years is a short time in solar system terms. It's even shorter for the outer solar system where it's about one million orbits. Since things move slowly and there is little material out there, spreading is very slow. Ones the material is placed there by a larger body (like Neptune), it tends to stay put for quite a while.
    • Yeah, I noticed they said that those stars are 300 million years old, while ours is 4.6 billion. That's a pretty big difference. I'm not sure how they can be related.
  • by drgonzo59 (747139) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:37PM (#14524572)
    The site presents simple calculations to suppot their claim!

    I would think for such a claim one would need more than just simple calculations .

    But anyway, in other news: "Dark matter coming to a store near you."

  • by GodHammre (730029) *
    With all this pseudoscience crap floating around on slashdot we should open a horoscope section. It would make sense. But in all seriousness there is a possibility of a binary companion, but, this site is nothing more than pseudoscience. It dresses up a crazy astrology theory with a little bit of modern scientific sounding language. Be careful about what you post.
  • by JourneyExpertApe (906162) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:48PM (#14524623)
    Are they suggesting that there may be a nearby star that astronomers have just failed to see for the past few millenia that we've been studying the sky? I thought the nearest star was light years away. Is it a very dim star? I don't get it!
    • Is it a very dim star? I don't get it!

      The smallest visible stars are red dwarfs. There are also cooler brown dwarfs which are only visible in the IR band.

      Then you get into gas giant planets like Jupiter. There could be a small brown dwarf relatively close by, and it would only be visible in an IR telescope from outside the atmosphere.

  • by Dh5 (869425) on Friday January 20, 2006 @11:48PM (#14524625)
    http://www.exitmundi.nl.nyud.net:8090/Nemesis.htm [nyud.net]
    I actually re-read this article the other day. I had been visiting the site because of an odd 43 degree F temperature change overnight, and decided to check on that again. A temperature change of such a large amount, overnight, is not normal at all during January in NY. All the snow melted overnight.
    • an odd 43 degree F temperature change overnight ... A temperature change of such a large amount, overnight, is not normal at all during January in NY. All the snow melted overnight.

      Come visit Calgary, Alberta. We have these all the time. They're called Chinooks, which incidentally is an aboriginal word for "snow eater". In California they're known as a Santa Ana wind.

      Sure you didn't grow some high mountain ranges just west of you recently? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All these world are yours except Europa.
    Use them together.
    Use them in peace. :hammertime:
  • The 'Nemesis' theory is decades old, Isaac Asimov even wrote a book [amazon.com] using this premise in the '80s!

    When you are scooped by a work of fiction that is over 16 years old, you either have some serious problems with you research dept. or it is a VERY slow news day.

  • Score! (Score:3, Funny)

    by NemesisStar (619232) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @12:31AM (#14524790)
    I knew that getting this username before anyone else would one day pay dividends! Username/name of star are inspired by the Isaac Asimov novel "Nemesis" by the way.
  • Oh, come on. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @12:56AM (#14524850)
    100 comments about Nemesis AND Stars and no Resident Evil reference?

    "STAAAAAAARRRSS...."
  • Lame, lame (Score:4, Funny)

    by hobuddy (253368) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:05AM (#14524871)
    If the Sun turns out to be binary, what the hell will the Gentoo guys do, CCFLAGS="-Odamnimcold -DALPHA_CENTAURI -funroll-solar-panels"?
  • by HuguesT (84078) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @03:28AM (#14525169)
    The linked article is not really about Nemesis [space.com], a distant companion to the Sun supposedly linked to regular massive exctinctions through its influence on the Oort cloud (where comets come from).

    It is, however, about an unseen Sun companion responsible for the precession of the equinox. The precession of the equinox is the observation that as the Earth orbits the Sun, after a full year around the Sun the Earth does not realign itself with the distant stars, there is a difference of about 50 arcseconds. This correspond to a period of about 24,000 years.

    Current theory for precession says the phenomenon is due to tidal effects due to the Moon acting on the non-perfectly-spherical Earth.

    TFA makes the simple point that this could be also more easily explained if the Sun was revolving around an heretofore unseen companion for the same period. This would also explain a number of other more complex phenomena, such as why this the precession rate seems to slowly, but undoubtedly change with time, why the angular momentum of the Sun appears to be so low compared to that of the planets, etc.

    TFA goes on to make prediction where this companion might be in the sky, and how far away it should be (between 0.01 and 0.03 of a LY), using nothing more complicated than basic Newtonian celestial mechanics.

    Well, time will tell, and I'm not an astronomer, but the theory is actually very simple and testable (in the mid to long run), so either evidence will mount in this direction or it will be disproved.

    For example we could measure precession rates on Mars. Since Mars has no large satellite, if it is found to have a precession rate similar to that of the Earth, then this will be very strong evidence that the tidal theory cannot be correct, and that the distant companion one is more likely to be. On the other hand if precession on Mars is very low, then this theory cannot be correct.

    In short I think the guy might be wrong but he is no crackpot.
    • Here's the thing: scientific hypothesis and theory used to be peer reviewed and tested in ways that weeded out the wild ideas that were incorrect (usually) before the public ever caught wind of them. It ISN'T that "real scientists" don't have wild ideas and flights of fancy. Most of the large "earth shattering" ideas over the centuries were just that in their day: wild weird ideas that had large segments of the scientific community thinking "who is this crackpot" for a while. The issue now is that anyone wi
  • As an undergrad at UCONN (University of Connecticut) I read a book called "Nemesis" back in 1992! And it was old then! (In fact, the book had only been taken out of the library twice in 10 years...)

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