“The Star” is a short story by H. G. Wells, first published in the Christmas 1897 edition of the Graphic, and subsequently reprinted in Tales of Space and Time (1899), The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911) and The Door in the Wall and Other Stories (1911). The story describes a near collision between the Earth and a large comet from outer space.
Told as a third-person narrative, the story begins on the “first day of the new year”, presumably 1898 given its publication date. News is reported that the motion of the planet Neptune has become erratic, and a “faint speck of light” has been observed in the planet’s vicinity. Although initially the discovery is only of interest to astronomers, eventually the world media announce that the speck of light is a star on a collision course with Neptune.
After consuming Neptune, the rogue star proceeds towards the planet Jupiter, the gravitational attraction of which alters its trajectory towards the Earth. As the star approaches closer, its luminosity lights the night sky and the European winter softens into a thaw; tides are the highest they have ever been, and all of America is convulsed by earthquakes. The heat from the star causes jungle fires to erupt across Asia, and the ice at the poles to melt. But those who forecast the imminent end of the world are met with the common-sense objection that there is no precedent for a star striking the Earth, so it must be impossible. Newspapers also report that the apocalypse had been predicted before, in 1000 AD.
As the star passes close by the Earth, pulling the Moon out of its orbit, the surviving inhabitants see the star plunge towards the Sun, and over the following few months peace returns to the Earth. The only lasting effect of the encounter is that the planet has become hotter towards the poles, so areas such as Greenland are now “green and gracious”.
The story concludes with the observations of a Martian astronomer:
Considering the mass and temperature of the missile that was flung through our solar system … it is astonishing what a little damage the Earth, which it missed so narrowly, has sustained. All the familiar continental markings and the masses of the seas remain intact, and indeed the only difference seems to be a shrinkage of the white discoloration (supposed to be frozen water) round either pole.
Wells returns to the theme of a near miss between a planetary body and the Earth in his 1906 novel The Days of the Comet.