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Oh, OK: We’re More Likely to Be Hit by “Space Rock” Than Originally Thought

By "space rock," I don't mean Aerosmith playing on the ISS.

armageddon

Not how I pictured the world ending.

According to a report shared with Discovery, we’re at a “higher risk of a space rock impact than widely thought.” In other words: prepare yourselves, the disaster movies are making a comeback.

But no, seriously. With the recent discovery of hundreds of these new giant comets called “centaurs,” astronomers are strongly recommending that we reconsider Earth’s risk of a catastrophic impact with one of these giant balls of ice and dust.

These “centaurs” apparently average out at 31-62 miles wide. For context, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was about 6 miles wide. The difference here is that comets are made up of ice and dust, so they’re likely to diminish in size should they attempt to enter Earth’s atmosphere. However, that may not be enough to prevent a major catastrophe.

The orbits these comets are on are unstable, and it would require a chance deflection from the gravity pull caused by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune to redirect one towards Earth. Imagine if those planets were big bullies and they were kind of tossing around a giant dirt clod that they want to throw at poor, nerdy Earth–they’re just waiting for the right moment. It is said that this chance occurrence only ever happens once every 40,000-100,000 years. Are… are we overdue?

The astronomers also provided a theory as to how this would play out, because they all know we don’t like sleeping well at night. Thanks. According to them, as the comet hurtles towards earth, it would begin to break up, since it’s coming closer to the sun, and it’s made up of ice and dust. Oh, and make no mistake, it wouldn’t be one massive impact. Said the astronomers in the Royal Astronomical Society Journal:

The disintegration of such giant comets would produce intermittent but prolonged periods of bombardment lasting up to 100,000 years.

But you’d be dead before the end of the first one, so whatever.

You can bet that if this news catches on, we’ll see more and more people turning their gaze skyward. With the renewed interest in exploring space, it’s likely these findings will catch more than a few eyes. What it comes down to, though, is really prioritizing getting the hell off Earth.

At the very least, these findings might inspire Hollywood to make another Armageddon. How great was that movie, though?

(via Blastr)

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.