Deadly Centaur Comet Could Be Disastrous For Earth
Centaurs or hundreds of massive comets spotted in the solar system in the last two decades, are a greater threat to life on earth than asteroids are, said researchers from the University of Buckingham and Armagh Observatory.
The centaurs have unstable orbits that cross the paths of outer planets, including Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. However, their "planetary gravitational fields" can deflect the comets in the direction of the earth, according to HNGN.
Being massive, between 50 to 100 kilometers "across or larger", just one centaur can contain more mass than every asteroid that crosses the earth. Researchers say that centaurs can decimate the earth's population in one collision, even though the rate at which they are directed on a path crossing the earth's orbit works out to just one crossing in every 40,000 to 100,000 years.
"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," Bill Napier, who participated in the research, said in a press release. "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 are right, then these distant comets could be a serious hazard, and it's time to understand them better."
Perhaps there was a centaur collision about 30,000 years ago, showering debris across the inner planetary system. This is borne out by an analysis of environmental catastrophes in history, along with collisions in interplanetary matter in near-Earth space.
The findings were published in December 2015 issue of Astronomy and Geophysics.