This weekend, the night sky will be decorated with some 150 shooting stars per hour in what is the peak of the Perseids; Popularly known as the “tears of Saint Lawrence”, whose origins are traced back to comet 109P / Swift-Tuttle.
And while meteor showers are fascinating, experts warn how thousands of years from now, this comet could propitiate a massive extinction to Earth.
Discovered by Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle on July 19, 1862, the comet has a diameter of 26 kilometers and orbits around the Sun in a period of 135 years.
Although the probability is extremely low, experts say there is a small chance that its orbit will be altered by a “gravitational kick” from Jupiter causing it to alter its cosmic route and impact Earth. If this happens, it would collide with Earth with a power 30 times greater than that which annihilated the dinosaurs—the energy equivalent of approximately 20,000,000 hydrogen bombs exploding all at once, as it has 260% the width of the Dinosaur Killing Asteroid. Yikes!
The asteroid could literally be catapulted into the Sun, or ejected from our solar system, all depending on the “gravitational kick” from our solar system’s Gas giants. It can also end up colliding with Earth.
However, the comet’s orbit is no mystery to scientists who have already determined where it will be for the next 2000 years.
It has not crossed the internal solar system since 1992 and will not do it again until 2126.
According to astrophysicist Ethan Siegel, current estimates show that Earth will be “100% safe” from the comet until 4479 when a dangerous approach will take place.
“This does not necessarily mean it’s going to hit us, but the possibility exists.”
“Once the comet makes its approach within about 2,400 years, there will still be 99.9999% chance it misses us,” he adds.
However, with each pass through the inner solar system, the chances that one of the gas giants will give it a push and influence the comet’s orbit increases.
“There’s a chance that, just like the Perseid stream was pushed into Earth’s orbital path this year, sometime in the future, the comet will achieve a collision course with Earth,’ wrote Siegel.”
Furthermore, the astrophysicist says that the comet is currently moving around four times faster than the Dinosaur-killing asteroid.
“One small, almost imperceptible gravitational tug could be the end of the era of the mammals,” Siegel concludes. “After tens of millions of years of relative peace within our galaxy, one errant comet could do us all in.”
So ladies and gents, get your pop-corn ready and wait to 4479, if of course until then, nothing else comes our way and does the job done before 109P / Swift-Tuttle. Oh and don’t forget, the Perseid meteor shower is ON. It occurs each year between July 17th and August 24, peaking between 9—13 August.