This weekend, the night sky is set to dazzle with up to 150 shooting stars per hour as the Perseid meteor shower moves into its peak.
The phenomenon comes around every year, all thanks to an icy space rock known as Comet Swift-Tuttle – but, thousands of years from now, that same comet could bring on the worst mass extinction Earth has seen in hundreds of millions of years.
Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle completes its orbit around the sun every 133 years, and roughly 2,400 years from now, this will bring it ‘perilously close’ to our planet.
While the likelihood of it slamming into Earth is extremely low, experts say there’s a small chance that its orbit will be offset by a ‘gravitational kick’ from Jupiter, causing an impact with 30 times the energy of that which killed the dinosaurs.
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The Perseid meteor shower comes around every year, all thanks to an icy space rock known as Comet Swift-Tuttle – but, thousands of years from now, that same comet could bring on the worst mass extinction Earth has seen in hundreds of millions of years. A stock image is shown
For the next 2,000 years, Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle poses little threat to Earth and its inhabitants, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel assures.
But eventually, around the year 4479, it will come 'perilously close' to Earth, and a gravitational nudge from Jupiter could push it off its course, resulting in a number of possible scenarios.
It could be sent hurtling into the sun, or even be ejected from the solar system, Siegel explains.
Or, it could end up plunging toward Earth.
The comet is moving four times faster than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, according to the astrophysicist, and the resulting impact would release 28 times as much energy – or, the equivalent of 20,000,000 hydrogen bombs exploding.
In a new post for the Forbes blog Starts With a Bang, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel explains that the sheer size and speed of Comet Swift-Tuttle would set our planet up for major catastrophe if a collision were to happen.
The fast-moving comet is massive; at 16 miles wide (26km), it’s 260% the width of the ‘dinosaur-killer.’
But, according to Siegel, Swift-Tuttle’s orbit is no great mystery to scientists, and they’ve already determined where it will be for upwards of the next 2,000 years.
It hasn’t crossed into the inner solar system since 1992, and isn’t