Ever since the discovery that it was an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, getting hit by another killer asteroid has always been included in the list of possible ways the world will end. While the idea might come across as extreme to some, it’s still unnerving to know that the possibility is quite real. According to new research, with every passing year, the risk that we will get devastatingly hit by one continues to get higher.
This grave warning stems from the results of a study on the Taurid meteoroid stream conducted by astronomers at the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Specifically, the team analyzed 144 fireballs from the 2015 Taurid meteor shower, one of those years when the stream’s activity was unusually higher, most likely because of a well- defined orbital structure. The brightest fireball they observed then was caused by a rock that is estimated to weigh over 1,000 Kg and measure more than one meter in diameter. They also found that meteoroids bigger than 300 grams were very fragile, while those smaller than 30 grams were much more compact.
Meteors, also called shooting stars or falling stars, are what we see when a meteoroid — a particle or section that breaks off from an asteroid or comet orbiting the Sun — enters our planet’s atmosphere and burns up. A meteor shower occurs when meteors are sent through a stream of space debris as a result of the Earth’s movement.
The Taurid meteoroid stream is known for producing at least four meteor showers on Earth every year: twice during daytime from the end of May to mid-July; and twice during night-time from the end of September until early December. Most of Taurid’s meteors are believed to come from the Comet 2P/Encke. They are usually small, and pose no threat. However, the same cannot be said for the new branch of the stream the Czech astronomers were able to track.
Apart from moving together around the Sun and following a path that intersects with our planet, what’s even more remarkable about this newly discovered branch is that it includes two asteroids with diameters ranging from 200 – 300 meters. While these two large asteroids may not have been on a direct collision course with Earth, knowing of their existence brings up the idea that other asteroids of the same or even bigger sizes may be lurking within the stream.
Earth supposedly encounters this particular branch every few years for around three weeks. During this period, the risk of a bigger-sized rock crashing into our planet significantly increases. And even though these bigger-sized asteroids may be fragile, there’s still a chance that they can penetrate our atmosphere and crash into our planet. Which is why the team is now calling for a more intensive study on Taurid asteroids — to find out if we have anything to fear and prepare for.
Details of the research were recently published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.