Real world Encounters with other stars

Today, science fiction author Matthew Mather launches his latest book, NOMAD.

All too often, we see life on Earth as distinct and separate from outer space, but the reality is, we are in space, not separate from it. As Carl Sagan noted when Voyager turned around and took a snap shot of Earth at a distance of 6 billion kilometers, out beyond Pluto, our world is little more than a pale blue dot, a speck of dust floating on a sunbeam. What would it take to upset life on Earth? The dinosaurs found that out the hard way, and Matthew explores some other possibilities that are all too plausible.

In this article, Matthew discusses the background behind his novel, which is a page-turner and based on hard science. NOMAD is on special today for 99c, so grab it while it’s hot.


Before writing my newest book Nomad, released on August 12th, I spent months talking to astronomers and astrophysicists to build up the science behind the encounter I envisioned. At first, the physicists said the event would totally destroy the Earth, but slowly, I managed to piece together a physics-based scenario where it was possible life could survive on the surface—otherwise it wouldn’t make for much of a story!

I won’t give away a spoiler and say exactly what the anomaly is in Nomad, except to say that it’s on the order of a hundred times the mass of the sun, totally invisible, and coming at us quickly. It’s based on real-world science, and I spent a lot of time working with the astrophysicists to work out a scenario of how we would miss detecting this kind of anomaly.

In the end, I managed to convince a team of post-graduate researchers build a full three-dimensional gravity simulation of the entire solar system to lob my Nomad  anomaly through the middle of. All of the elements of the story—all the forces involved and the paths of the planets afterward—are based on real-world physics (at the end of the book, I have instructions on where to watch a video of me running the simulation).


There have been many books and movies illustrating the idea that the Earth is part of the ecosystem of asteroids and comets, planets and even our Sun, and that from time to time, an object may hit the Earth, or the Sun may flare, triggering catastrophic events. But what hasn’t been explored as much is the effect of an ecosystem on a much larger scale—the effect exerted on the Earth by objects in our interstellar and even intergalactic neighborhood.

It might sound far-fetched, but it isn’t.

In fact, much of the events we’d attributed previously to chance, like the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, might not be random at all, but the direct result of the interstellar interactions the Earth has with passing stars (still random, but on a much larger scale). In school, we’re taught that the closest star, apart from the Sun, is Proxima Centuri, at just over four light years of distance. It may seem like the interstellar neighborhood is static.

But it’s not.

In February of 2015, researchers were dumbfounded to discover that just 70,000 years ago, near enough in time that our direct ancestors would have seen it, Scholz’s star, a red dwarf, passed about a half light year from us. This led to a flurry of data crunching, leading scientists to discover that, for instance, four million years ago, a giant star, more than twice the mass of the sun, passed less than a third of a light year from us, and in just over a million years from now, another star will pass at just over a hundredth (yes, a hundredth) of a light year from our sun, grazing the solar system itself and possibly affecting the orbits of the planets.


Now scientists are saying that Sedna, the 10th planetoid of the Sun, the one after Pluto, isn’t even an original planet of our Sun. It was captured from a passing star over a billion years ago, when our solar system collided with an alien star’s planetary system. Hundreds of objects in the Kuiper Belt, the collection of planetoids past Uranus, are believed to have been captured from passing stars.

So we are continually mixing together with others stars and interstellar objects, and not on a time scale of billions of years, but on a regular basis every few million years—some scientists now even think that alien stars transit our solar system’s Oort cloud as often as every few hundred thousand years ( BBC )

A change in Earth’s orbit might have triggered one of the biggest global warming events in its history ( Daily Mail ). And scientists now think that a massive ice age, started 35 million years ago, might have been also been caused by another shift in Earth’s orbit, and that this same event disturbed the asteroid belt enough to precipitate several large asteroid impacts, one of which formed the Chesapeake Bay. Some now believe these sorts of events might have been caused by the gravitational effect of a passing star.

Asteroids and comets transiting the inner solar system will of course hit the Earth from time to time, but there is an added element of the influence of passing stars that churn these objects into new and dangerous orbits, and even pulling the Earth itself into a slightly different orbit around the Sun. Which leads to speculation about the root cause of some large comet/asteroid impacts, such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. The point is that there are a lot of things in our universe, happening right around us, that we have no idea about.

And we haven’t even talked about the 95% of “stuff” floating around us, dark matter, that we can’t see or detect, other than knowing it’s there from its gravitational signature. With upgraded sensors and increased power in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2015, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, many scientists had hoped to see evidence of dark matter.

But they’ve found nothing. Despite all of our technology and hundreds of years of peering into the cosmos, we still have no idea what makes up the vast majority of our universe.

The scenario is Nomad  is perhaps farfetched, but perhaps not—truth is often stranger than fiction—and this is the story of Nomad.

Click here to go to Nomad’s Amazon Page.

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