The comet responsible for the Perseids, the shooting stars that light up the sky every August, is considered the most dangerous object known to mankind.
That shooting stars are not stars is one of those disappointments you have to live with. Although the explanation of why diaspores of light are illuminated in the August sky year after year, it contains endless fascinations, among them that the comet responsible for the Perseids is considered the most dangerous object known to mankind.
Before giving way to Swift-Tuttle, we must recognize that we owe it to millions of people around the world to look up to the exhausted summer sky and make their wishes.
Among the wonderful stories that are certainly not true (although they should be), it is said that Claudius Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer of the year 100 AD, was the one who started the custom of wishing to the shooting stars.
The shooting star was the sign that the sky was opening, just for a second, and in that time the message could reach the gods of Olympus. For that, the wish had to come true before the star went out.
This is just one of the many, many legends behind why the Perseids gather desires, dreams of love, glory, and those that allow you to pay the electric bill (more than ever).
What is not legend is that one of the greatest nightly shows of the year, the Perseids, we do not owe it to the gods, we owe it to a comet.
Comet Swift-Tuttle, formally 109P/Swift-Tuttle, is a massive icy comet in a 133-year orbit around the Sun, and the reason for Earth’s spectacular annual Perseid meteor showers.
Comet Swift-Tuttle has a core 26 km in diameter, two and a half times the size of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, and travels four times as fast.
The comet responsible for the Perseid meteor shower could hit Earth, causing devastating damage, but in 2,400 years with an impact equivalent to 20 million hydrogen bombs.
Calculations of Comet Swift-Tuttle’s orbit show that Earth is ‘100% safe’ for the next 2,000 years. But in the year 4479, its orbit will bring it “dangerously” close to our planet.
The chances of hitting Earth are extremely low, with a 99.9999% miss chance. But, a ‘gravitational kick’ from Jupiter could send it hurtling towards Earth.
While the chance of colliding with Earth is slim, experts say there’s a slim chance its orbit will be offset by a “gravitational kick” from Jupiter, causing an impact with 30 times the energy that killed the dinosaurs.
If it does impact, it could trigger the worst mass extinction Earth has seen in hundreds of millions of years.
The comet moves four times faster than the asteroid that caused the extinction of more than 70% of species in the Cretaceous, the one that hit what is now known as the Yucatan Peninsula, considered responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The impact of the comet responsible for the Perseids would release 28 times more energy, equivalent to the explosion of 20 million hydrogen bombs.
This would mean that the Perseids would no longer illuminate the desires of future humans. In the meantime, like every year in August, we will enjoy the greatest celestial show of our lives.