It’s funny how all the figures that usually support the poor portrayal of paranoia in the media are usually themselves paranoid and scream about this and that. However, when you spend enough time with someone who keeps saying that the sky is falling, you are still surprised when a piece of it hits you in the head. So, to our surprise, a team of researchers claims Earth could be hit by comet.
Asteroids – the usual suspects
Usually, when looking for potentially dangerous objects that could collide with earth, scientists know what to look for.
The highest danger to Earth is posed by asteroids breaking free from the asteroid belt. These asteroids usually occupy the space between Mars and Jupiter, and they travel through space along the asteroid belt separating the two planets.
From there, the occasional asteroid breaks out of formation and starts hurdling through space, occasionally crashing into our atmosphere and being disintegrated on their way down.
Still, there are those asteroids, like 2003 SD220, supposed to pass by Earth on Christmas Eve, that are big enough to cause serious damage if they were to stray off course and hit our planet.
Centaurs versus asteroids
A group of astronomers led by Professor Mark Bailey and Dr. David Asher from the Armagh Observatory, as well as Professors Duncan Steel and Bill Napier from the University of Buckingham, warn us that the biggest dangers don’t lie in the asteroid field. And when they say big, they mean it literally.
Over the past 20 years, the groups reported hundreds of giant comets at the outer edges of our solar system, and the frequency of their discovery speaks ill of their potential.
The gargantuan comets are known as Centaurs, and they usually spend their time moving on uneven orbits around planets like Neptune, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus.
Occasionally, when passing by such a planet, the centaurs tend to deviate from their course due to the huge gravitational forces.
When deviated from their course, the massive comets that can reach diameters of between 50 and up to more than 100 kilometers will, once every 40,000 to 100,000 years, start heading towards Earth; however, they are usually deviated by reaching another planet’s gravitational pull and changing their orbit once again.
When hitting the planet’s atmosphere, these comets wouldn’t remain intact; instead, they would break apart in large quantities of dust and debris which will inevitably hit the planet.
Image source: Wikimedia