Scientists warn of danger from rogue 60-mile-wide comets that could wipe all life on earth instantly
- Hundreds of massive comets, called ‘centaurs,’ have been discovered
- Centaurs are masses of ice and dust, and can be 31 to 61 miles wide
- The risk is not ‘known to be imminent’ but encounters are unpredictable
The number of giant comets that could hit Earth is higher than previously thought.
While Nasa focuses on asteroid threats, new research suggests they need to also look beyond the orbit of Jupiter, where the distant comets are lurking.
A comet strike may have wiped out the dinosaurs, and a repeat incident would mean major devastation for Earth.
Hundreds of these massive comets, called ‘centaurs,’ have been discovered over the last two decades.
Centaurs are balls of ice and dust, with an unstable orbit that starts beyond Neptune.
They can reach sizes of 31 to 61 miles wide. A single centaur contains more mass than the entire population of Earth-crossing asteroids discovered to date.
In their orbit, these comets will cross paths with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Occasionally, a comet will ricochet off the gravity fields of one of these large giant planets, sending it hurtling towards Earth.
This, the researchers say, happens once about every 40,000-100,000 years.
As the comets get closer to the sun, they begin to disintegrate, breaking up into debris tails and ‘making impacts on our planet inevitable.’
‘The disintegration of such giant comets would produce intermittent but prolonged periods of bombardment lasting up to 100,000 years,’ the research team wrote in the Royal Astronomical Society journal, Astronomy
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