Giant Comets Could Wipe Out Life On Earth, Scientists Claim

Posted: Dec 22 2015, 11:57pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 23 2015, 12:13am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Giant Comets Could Wipe out Life on Earth, Scientists Claim
Credit: David A. Hardy

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Hundreds of giant comets discovered in outer space pose a much greater hazard to life than asteriods

Giant comets pose huge threat for life on Earth and they could potentially be more devastating than asteroids, astronomers warn after having a close look at giant comets in outer space.

A team of astronomers from Armagh Observatory and the University of Buckingham reports that in the last two decades hundreds of giant comets, also called centaurs, have been discovered in outer planetary system.

These large icy balls are usually 50 to 100 kilometers wide and each contains more body mass than entire number of asteroids that have gone past earth to date. These giant comets have unstable, elliptical orbits when they cross the paths of planets like Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune in our solar system.

The gravity field of giant planets occasionally deflects a comet towards Earth – once about 40,000 years. As a comet passes through the Earth, it breaks up into dust and large fragments and floods the solar system with cometary debris, which will inevitably affect our planet too.

"The disintegration of such giant comets would produce intermittent but prolonged periods of bombardment lasting up to 100,000 years.” Authors wrote in the research and it could potentially wipe out life on earth.

“In the last three decades, we have invested a lot of effort in tracking and analyzing the risk of a collision between the Earth and an asteroid,” said co-author Bill Napier of University of Buckingham. “Our work suggests we need to look beyond our immediate neighborhood too, and look out beyond the orbit of Jupiter to find centaurs.”

“If we’re right, then these distant comets could be a serious hazard and it’s time to understand them better.”

Many scientists believe that some of the mass extinctions in the past were also triggered by giant comets such as 65 million years ago dinosaurs suddenly disappeared from the earth possibly due to a giant comet bombardment rather than smashing of an asteroid on Earth.

“A centaur arrival carries the risk of injecting into the atmosphere…a mass of dust and smoke comparable to that assumed in nuclear winter studies,” wrote researchers, referring to hypothetical climate effect which appears after a nuclear war.

“Thus, in terms of magnitude, its ranking among natural existential risk appears to be high.”

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