Debris trail from unseen comet’s orbit indicates it may pose potential danger to Earth

July 29, 2011PASADENA, CA – A stream of dusty fragments from a comet born in the outermost reaches of the solar system has hit the Earth on a path that leads astronomers to conclude the comet itself could be “potentially hazardous” if it crashes into the planet. The comet’s location is unknown, making it difficult to say when it will approach Earth, but “the orbits of the dust trail tells us that the comet is on a path that could eventually hit us,” said Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer at the SETI Institute and the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. “It’s very unlikely,” he conceded Wednesday. “Such impacts are extremely rare in Earth’s history.” The trail of dust grains, known as meteoroids, were shed by the comet long ago as it passed the Sun and Earth on a long orbit that could have taken thousands of years to complete, Jenniskens said. The comet was born billions of years ago and trillions of miles away in the cold comet nursery called the Oort Cloud, and streams of the comet’s dusty progeny have returned to Earth once or twice every 60 years or so when their orbits come under the influence of Saturn and Jupiter, Jenniskens said. Sixty specialized cameras that operate at UC’s Lick Observatory, the Fremont Peak Observatory and a ground-based site, formerly in Mountain View but now in Lodi under a project called Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance, constantly monitor the night sky for meteoroids. Jenniskens said he was scanning the orbits of the dust stream’s fragments from images snapped at Fremont Peak and in Mountain View on Feb. 4 when he noted a tightly linked cluster of six objects streaming at nearly 80,000 mph in a shower seven hours long. “I couldn’t believe my eyes at first,” he said. But once he had had determined the identical orbits of the fragments he teamed with Finnish astronomer Esko Lyytinen to predict that the dust trail will return in 2016, again in 2023, and once again in 2076. –Seattle PI
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8 Responses to Debris trail from unseen comet’s orbit indicates it may pose potential danger to Earth

  1. mike050 says:

    The comet’s location is unknown, making it difficult to say when it will approach Earth”

    verry scary!!

    thnx

    • Donna says:

      Wouldn’t the comet be at the beginning of the ‘dusty tail’. That’s kind of a hint that the comet is somewhere close!

      • I wouldn’t read too much into the article other than what’s there. The dust trail appears to be predictable and they know exactly when it is supposed to reappear but know little about the comet- which could be a dark horse. One of the greatest dangers I see from such comets in the future could be fragmentary bolide showers.

  2. Dennis says:

    We can go to the moon but we don’t know the location. It would seem logical that if they
    can see the so called dust coming, they would know its location. Something does not
    seem right!!

  3. Blaze says:

    I agree with Dennis! They can see everything else even comet elenin…why can’t they see this one?

  4. Gen says:

    I guess lines 11, 12, 13 and 14 of the above report show why they can’t see it. A 1,000 year orbit is quite a distance to cover. It seems that the comet is travelling much faster and further away than the dust trail. But I am no scientist.

  5. idiotbox says:

    The tail of the dragon without a doubt.

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