Jupiter’s gravitational reach has a slight chance of destroying Earth someday, say astronomers Jacques Laskar and Mickael Gastineau of the Institut de Mecanique Celeste et de Calcul des Ephemerides in Paris. The researchers ran more than 2,500 simulations based on a model they developed that projected the precise orbits and interactions of the entire solar system over the next five billion years. The team reports that in 99 per cent of the simulations, the solar system continued to operate smoothly for this length of time. But in 1 per cent of the cases, things got messy. The culprit was Mercury’s orbit. If its trajectory is altered by as little as 0.38 millimeters over the course of the next 140 million years, explains Laskar, that incredibly tiny difference would be magnified steadily by repeated encounters with Jupiter’s gravity, growing by a factor of 10 about every 10 million years. By about 1.7 billion years from now, ‘Mercury’s [orbital] eccentricity increases to large values,’ and by 3.34 billion years, there could be ‘a complete destabilisation of the inner planets’. As a result, Mars or Venus might ram into Earth.
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