If you have lain in bed at night worrying that the planets of the solar system will bounce through the galaxy, you can put your mind at ease.
According to new calculations, we have at least 100,000 years until then.
In a new study, mathematicians Angel Zhivkov and Ivaylo Tounchev of Sofia University in Bulgaria present analytical evidence for the stability of the solar system over the next 100 millennia, including all eight planets and Pluto.
Their calculations, which have yet to be peer-reviewed, show that the orbits of these bodies will not change significantly over that time.
That may sound strange; After all, the solar system has been active here for about 4.5 billion years. But it is indeed not easy to model and predict what it will do in the future.
Of course, studies have been conducted to try to calculate the future of the solar system, using advanced computers to model the movements of the planets over millions or billions of years.
However, to cover such long periods of time, they leave out some of the finer details.
Although Zhivkov and Tounchev’s work covers a much shorter period of time than other efforts, it increases the reliability of the results, they say.
Because it takes into account deviations in the initial conditions, such as the eccentricities of the orbits and inclinations of the planets, as well as the masses of all bodies in the system.
The ultimate fate of the solar system has puzzled scientists for a very long time. It was Isaac Newton who suggested that mutual interactions between the planets would eventually drive the solar system into chaos. Since then, the long-term dynamic stability of our home planetary system has been grist for the brain mill.
Because the more bodies there are in a dynamic system, the more difficult it becomes to predict how they will behave. Two bodies locked in a mutual orbit can be mathematically described and predicted relatively easily.
However, the more bodies you add, the more complicated the math gets. This is because the bodies begin to disrupt each other’s orbits, adding an element of chaos to the system. This is known as the N-body problem.
Solutions can be derived for specific individual cases, but there is no panacea that describes all N-body interactions. And the solar system is very complex indeed, with not only eight planets and the sun, but also asteroids, dwarf planets and other bits and pieces floating around.
We can probably ignore the really small things like asteroids for the most part, but even then, many bodies remain in the system.
Zhivkov and Tounchev developed a numerical method that translates the orbital elements of the planets (and Pluto) into 54 first-order ordinary differential equations. The computer code, running on a desktop computer, then performed the calculations over 6,290,000 steps, with each step taking about six days.
The calculations indicate that “