In Search of Nemesis
Definition: Retributive justice. Nemesis is notoriously slow.
About 30 years ago two astronomers looked at the fossil data from mass extinctions on this planet we call home. They observed what appeared to be a pattern of regularity in the data. Something was apparently raising its ugly head about once every 26 million years and it was wreaking a lot of havoc upon us. They discovered via time series analysis that something monstrous had been going on over the last 250 million years, and the massive life extinctions could very well have been coming from a single source. A few years later in 2002 a couple of other investigators refined the timeline a little and put the extinctions as having occurred every 27 million years on average, and they have been repeating for at least 500 million years.
What source could possibly be causing us to get nearly wiped out with regularity once every 27 million years? And why should we be concerned? Both questions arise from curious minds. And curious minds need to find answers.
A possible answer to the first question popped upquickly. First, the source must be coming from outer space. And the logical source was a comet. They circumnavigate in their orbital paths with regularity. Halley’s Comet is a case inpoint. It comes around once every 76 years. But this must be different. It takes much longer.
Outside our solar system and extending for perhaps 1.5 light years is a huge “cloud” of orbiting ice particles called Ort’s Cloud. It consists of trillions of chunks ofice. “What if,” the astronomers hypothesized, “our sun had a companion star, and its orbital path took it far out into space beyond Ort’s Cloud before looping back and heading toward our sun. As it passed through Ort’s Cloud it would ‘perturb’ billions of chunks of ice and send them hurdling into oursolar system. Eventually many of them would bombard Earth. And of the millions that impacted Earth if only one of them was relatively large, it could make a catastrophic impact, much like the one that impacted the Yucatan peninsula about 65 million years ago.” It wiped out the dinosaurs along with 90 percent of all life on Earth.
A few calculations later, and up jumped Nemesis, our sun’s hypothetical companion star. After all, about 70 percent of all stars have an orbiting companion. If it exists, it must be much smaller than our sun, and not visible to the naked eye. It would likely be either a red or a brown dwarf star, visible only by infrared observational techniques. And so the hunt began for Nemesis, our sun’s companion who visits us only once every 27 million years.
So, where is Nemesis? Several sets of searches failed to find him. And now, Wikipedia informs us, new evidence no longer supports the notion that we come under attack at regular intervals,hence the search for Nemesis is no longer necessary.
Hold on there, all you astrophysicists. I think you are giving up on Nemesis too easily. If you want to drop Nemesis on the basis of wobbly data manipulation, that still leaves open the notion that we could be getting pelted with an increasing rate of retributive justice. The idea of karma suggests that no matter how much we try to hide from our abuses against nature, that somewhere out there the universe never forgets. What we cast upon the cosmic seas always comes back to reward or punish us. We are newcomers to the scene. Could Nemisis have shortened its orbital path?