Earth in danger? NASA reports comet swarm, Earth-crossing asteroids
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NASA has announced the discovery of ten new asteroids in space which pose a threat to life on Earth. The ten objects were discovered over the past year by the "Near-Earth Orbit Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer" (NEOWISE). The threats are still being assessed.
Earth is close to the center of a cosmic shooting gallery, and sooner or later, we will be hit.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) -- The Solar System is filled with rocks, all hurtling around the sun at speeds many times faster than a bullet. Most of these rocks are tiny, too small to cause harm to life on Earth. When these objects collide with our atmosphere, they burn brightly causing what we call a "meteor" or more commonly, a "shooting star."
Most other objects are too far away, and their orbits don't intersect Earth's, so they pose no danger.
However, a few objects cross Earth's orbit and are large enough to cause harm to our planet. These asteroids are called "Near Earth Objects" and scientists are in a race against time to locate and track all of them.
Scientists unanimously agree that it is only a matter of time before one of these objects strikes the Earth. The extent of the damage will depend on its size and the location of impact.
Missions, such as NEOWISE are dedicated to locating more of these objects, and in the past year, they have discovered ten new asteroids. Those asteroids are still being evaluated to see if any will collide with Earth in the future.
So far, no asteroid has been observed on a collision course, but that could change. A new one could be discovered on a dangerous course, or an old one may have its orbit disturbed and as a result, could be set on a new collision course.
A large asteroid impacting the Earth could do as little as destroy a city or as much as destroying all life on Earth. If scientists detect one such threat in advance, they could develop some way to change its orbit. The slight nudging of an asteroid might be all it takes, but this is only possible if the asteroid is detected far enough in advance.
In addition to the new asteroids, NEOWISE has also located five new comets, which pose a similar threat to Earth. Comets usually come from deep space and often have highly elliptical orbits that cause them to swing past the Sun once every several decades. Comets can have variable orbits, and some swing past the Sun once and are ejected from the Solar System, while others plunge directly into the Sun itself. A few, however, can pass close to Earth and become visible in the night sky. And once, every hundred million years or so, one may hit Earth.
According to NASA, an unprecedented swarm of comets has been detected passing through the inner Solar System. Nobody knows why there has been an uptick in comet activity, but it's usually thought to come from the close approach of other stars, or unseen objects in deep space that causes disruption in the Oort Cloud, a halo of comets at the farthest reaches of our Solar System. It can take decades for a comet from the Oort Cloud to make the journey all the way to the inner Solar System.
Despite the discoveries of the ten asteroids, five comets, and over a hundred other, less dangerous objects, there is no immediate risk to Earth. Even the inner Solar System is a vast place, and there's plenty of room for a lot of asteroids to swirl without hitting Earth. But the danger from a single event is so great, we cannot afford to wait and hope we get missed every time.
The search continues.
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