Giant Comets — ‘Centaurs’ — Are A Credible Threat To Life On Earth

A number of giant comets lurking in the recesses of our solar system — called “centaurs” — are a credible threat to life on earth, a group of astronomers keeping an eye on distant celestial bodies have claimed.

Although astronomers earlier believed that the probability of an apocalypse triggered by a giant comet crashing into earth was low, new studies have revealed that comets can now safely be classified as a potential threat to humans.

According to the Guardian, astronomers studying objects in the asteroid belt roughly between Mars and Jupiter found out that the number of giant comets are increasing to almost an alarming level, requiring them to add these comets — dubbed “centaurs” after the mythological beings that were a mixture of horse and human — to the ever-expanding the list of potential hazards.

Deemed to be more dangerous than any asteroid that has crossed paths with earth in the planet’s recent history, the sheer mass of these objects make them fundamentally hazardous, more so because “centaurs” almost always have unstable, elliptical orbits. According to Science Recorder, one giant comet, or centaur, contains more mass than the entire population of Earth-crossing asteroids discovered till date.

Typically 40-60 miles in length, these balls of ice and dust occasionally cross paths with giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and because of their massive gravity fields, may be one day deflected towards Earth. Astronomers earlier believed the chances of such a comet crashing into Earth was extremely rare — estimating that a comet crashes into earth every 40,000 to 100,000 years — but the exponential increase of these bodies pose a greater threat to human life than ever before.

As Daily Mail reports, some scientists contend that a comet strike may have wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, and a repeat incident would mean major devastation for Earth.


However, if you are thinking that a giant comet can just wipe life off the face of the earth in one go, you are probably mistaken. According to scientists, giant comets approaching earth disintegrate because of their close proximity with the sun, and because of their high velocity, meaning the bombardment may last well over a few decades.

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

In the paper, which was published in Astronomy and Geophysics, journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the research team further warned the scientific community that it is time the threat from these giant comets began to be taken seriously.

“Our work suggests we need to look beyond our immediate neighborhood too, and look out beyond the orbit of Jupiter to find centaurs.

“A centaur arrival carries the risk of injecting, into the atmosphere … a mass of dust and smoke comparable to that assumed in the nuclear winter studies. In terms of magnitude, its ranking among natural existential risks appears to be high.

“If we are right, then these distant comets could be a serious hazard, and it’s time to understand them better.”

Will comets be a threat to human life in the near future? An image of Comet C/2013 US10, popularly dubbed as the Catalina. On 17 January 2016 the comet will pass 0.72 AU (108,000,000 km; 67,000,000 mi) from Earth. [Image via /Twitter]Remarkably, scientists also believe that giant comets — similar to centaurs — may have been responsible for kick-starting life in the first place by bringing water and organic molecules on earth. But if their recent assessment about centaurs being a credible threat to humans is indeed accurate, a giant comet bombardment will surely end up meaning a different result for earth this time around.

[Photo via Pixabay]