The research paper is a detailed explanation of the meteors, asteroids, and comets including their definition and instances of their occurrence and the impact created. It also offers recommendations on how humans can keep themselves safe from future catastrophes.
A meteoroid is a small object found in space and can assume different forms, for instance, it can be a comet or an asteroid or human-made (Dubeck et al. 43).
A meteor refers to an object from the outer space that accesses the earth’s atmosphere and burns up thus leaving a trail of smoke and humans can see it as a bright streak (Dubeck et al. 43). Therefore, a meteor is the burning up of a meteoroid and is also known as the “shooting star.” A meteor is different from a meteoroid since, in the former, it is impossible to determine the origin of the object (Sephton 5). On the contrary, a meteoroid could be a broken chip of either comet, asteroid, or spacecraft that falls through the atmosphere.
Scientists suggest that the earth does not have a permanent position, but keeps on moving in space. During these movements, meteors, small fragments made of matter, approach the earth in the form of shooting stars (Dubeck et al. 43). As the meteors collide with the atmosphere, friction occurs and hence the appearance of bright streaks in the sky. The atmosphere might not burn the large meteors which succeed to strike the earth as it continues to rotate.
A meteorite is an object that manages to hit the earth’s surface and can have various origins. However, there is a high probability of rocky and metallic objects falling onto the surface of the earth than icy objects following their additional weights. Meteorites are rich in materials used during the formation of the solar system since they have existed as floating matter in space for a considerable duration (Dubeck et al. 44).
Since the formation of the meteorites, they have not undergone any adjustments. Therefore, they are resourceful in explaining the formation of the early solar system as well as the planets. Scientists imply that the formation of the inner solar system took place in the hot gaseous cloud many years ago. The process necessitated the creation of amino acids and hydrocarbons (Sephton 11). After the completion of the inner solar system, the materials that remained became the meteorites and asteroids (Dubeck et al. 44).
The meteors that survive the friction with the atmosphere bear the name meteorites and exist in three categories namely stony, stony-iron, and iron.
They resemble the ordinary rocks in their composition. The stony meteorites are rich in some of the important biological compounds, for instance, amino acids and hydrocarbons.
They are a combination of stone and iron.
They are a mixture of large amounts of iron and an alloy of nickel.
The solar system has an extensive network of asteroids with some of them separating from the earth at a short distance. However, most of the asteroids have their paths in between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter (Dubeck et al. 45). Asteroids are not small in size, for example, at least 100,000 have a diameter of half a mile and beyond with the largest asteroid, Ceres having a diameter of 600 miles. Asteroids whose orbits pass close to the sun are called Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). The difference between NEAs and the sun is approximately 121 million miles NEAs are a chip of the initial asteroid which flakes off due to the gravitational pull of Jupiter or collisions between asteroids.
NEAs fall under three categories namely armors, apollos, and atens. The armors extend beyond the orbit of the Mars but do not reach that of the sun. The apollos cross the earth’s path for more than one year while the atens pass through the earth’s orbit for lesser than one year period. The NEAs discovered so far are about 250, but the assumption is that the total population is large and this is only a percentage (Sephton 14). The estimates made reveal that NEAs whose diameter is 1km and beyond exceed 1000, and they pose a threat to the populations if they succeed in striking the earth.
Asteroids differ from comets in many ways, and one does not have to study them carefully to notice the differences. The invention of the telescope was the first step towards discovering the asteroids when the first scientists discovered the Ceres in 1801. Since scientists have continued to find more asteroids over the years, humans now believe the billions of asteroids exist but are not more than 100km wide (Dubeck et al. 45). Most of the asteroids are so small to fit in the hand of a human being. It is not clear the number of known asteroids since new discoveries change the statistics on a monthly basis. At the moment, the number of known asteroids exceeds 100,000.
One of the distinctions between asteroids and comets is that asteroids are closer to the ecliptic plane compared to the comets. Secondly, the orbits of the asteroids are more circular whereas those of the comets appear stretched. The circular nature of the asteroids’ orbits is the more reason for their recognition as minor planets (Sephton 16). Most of the asteroids exist in the asteroid belt, the space between the paths of Mars and Jupiter. As a result, they have a safe distance from the sun (approximately 2-3.5 A.U).
Other asteroids are present along Jupiter’s orbit either in front or behind and are known as Trojan asteroids. Jupiter has strong forces which pull them to these locations, and they travel around the sun during the same period as Jupiter. As a result, they occupy the positions before or after Jupiter. Most Trojan asteroids are available in Jupiter, and only a few of them exist in Mars and Neptune (Sephton 19). The first announcement of a Trojan asteroid of the earth was in 2011 under a lovely name, 2010 TK7. It occupies a trapped position and thus remains in front of the earth during their travel around the sun.
The Comets are frozen icebergs made up of a combination of ammonia and methane gasses, ice, and meteor matter and they travel around the sun. The composition also includes particles of dirt especially in the form of carbon. As a result, the Comets assume the shape and appearance of dirty snowballs. When the Comet comes close to the sun, the solid gasses evaporate into the atmosphere (Shin and Henrard 78). The vapor forms the tail of the comet visible from millions of miles away. The sun produces pressure during the radiation process which pushes the comet’s tail further. After the comet has passed the sun, it regains its original frozen body concentrated across a few miles. Halley’s Comet is the most historic and follows an elliptical orbit in its movement around the sun after every 76 years.
Comets differ from planets especially in their movement around the solar system. The orbits of the planets appear relatively circular whereas those of the Comets are elliptical. As a result, the orbit of the comets is more of a stretch between the proximity of the sun to the edges of the solar system. However, not all the orbits of the comet are elliptical since most comets will pass toward the solar system once and never come back (Sephton 21). The orbits further possess a rather random orientation to the ecliptic, for instance, they can approach the direction of the sun through any angle about the ecliptic.
Humans might assume that comets are huge objects due to their appearance in the sky, but they are only 10 km in diameter. They are the smallest in size of all the objects that rotate around the sun. The comets appear like core or nuclei when located in the outer solar system, but they do not retain this size but transform from the dirty, minute, frozen icebergs as they travel around the solar system into the inner one (Shin and Henrard 81). The Comet moves at a fast speed, and the accelerated motion together with the pressure from the solar winds develops the trail of the evaporated material into tails. Whereas the head of the Comet, referred to as coma, can be enormously larger than the cometary nuclei, the tails are up to 1 A. U. in size.
Most people find it interesting that meteor showers are not as a result of asteroids but comets. Since Comets pass through the inner solar system, they collide with the earth along the orbital path. However, the likelihood of the collision is not too high, but since the Comets’ trail leave a larger debris, it is impossible for the earth to pass through it. Therefore, the earth sweeps up the debris while creating space for its passage, and the result is the saturation of the atmosphere with the debris (Shin and Henrard 97). The presence of the rubble in the air translates to the burning up of ice and rock commonly known as the meteor shower.
Since humans know the location of the comets’ passage and the time for the earth to pass through it, it is easy to make a prediction of the occurrence of the meteor shower. Individual meteors are visible any time of the year, but people have to make an effort to view them to know the exact date of the showers. Figure (i) below shows different types of meteor showers, alongside their time of occurrence and the comets that cause them.
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Past Collisions and their Impact
The crater evidence reveals that the earth has experienced a strike from more than 200 large meteors with one massive crash happening after every 10000 years. An example is the Baringer meteorite crater located in Winslow, Arizona, which measures 500 ft. deep and 4000 ft. wide. The meteorite responsible for the formation of the Baringer crater weighed at least 3,000 tons. The meteorite struck the earth approximately 24,000 years ago causing damage to plants and animals around the crater.
In the recent past, the earth has suffered collisions from large meteorites or comets. For instance, the forested region neighboring Tunguska River in Siberia experienced a massive explosion on June 30, 1908. It started as a ball of flame among the trees before graduating to a powerful explosion leaving the 800 square miles forest leveled (Napier and Asher 2). The estimation of the blast force was 10-20 megatons of TNT exploding. The explosion did not lead to the formation of a crater hence the assumption that the cause of the explosion was due to a collision with a comet since comets do not contain a solid rock core.
The glowing fire was visible 1000km away, and people located as far as 60 km from the site experienced knock downs from the force created by the shock wave (Napier and Asher 9). The night sky remained bright from the light emanated by the fires, and even the populations of England could notice the night sky that was excessively bright during that summer period (Napier and Asher 4). The light was so much at midnight that it was even possible to read the newspaper without straining the eyes. Barometers in different corners of the globe recorded changes in air pressure since the blast wave made several transverses across the earth (Napier and Asher 17).
It took a team of scientists several years (until the 1930s) to access the site of the catastrophe since it was in the interior of the swampy regions. They never found any meteorite elements but all the trees in the area had burnt, and others flattened. It was also evident from the tree pattern that the object had made an explosion in the atmosphere contrary to the belief that it had hit the ground (Napier and Asher 12). The probability of the object being a comet and not an asteroid was high because it did not leave any meteorite material at the site. The major casualties included herds of reindeer and a man who succumbed to internal bleeding after the blast knocked him down. The impact created by the attack was equivalent to the strength of a 40 megaton nuclear bomb.
The impact can be greater if the attack happens in a region occupied by humans. For instance, on February 15, 2013, the city of Chelyabinsk experienced an object explosion. The city, located in Russia, is home to over a million people. The object passed through the sky producing a shock wave which fell to the ground with a bang barely two minutes after the object had passed. The people did not grasp what was happening and were still gazing through from their house openings when a strong force shattered these windows. More than 100 people sustained injuries following the blast wave of the object whose estimated weight at the time of the explosion was 6 tons.
In the current era, dinosaurs are almost nonexistent probably because they had a collision with a comet or an asteroid. One of the scientist’s theories suggests that the earth has to experience a rain of comets after every 26 million years. The rain pours for an extended period, approximately over hundreds or thousands of centuries. Some of the effects created by the larger asteroids or comets are the accumulation of dust into the atmosphere. As a result, the rays of the sun cannot reach the earth’s surface for extended periods leading to the death of many plant and animal species.
The theory goes further to explain that the last extinction took place 11 million years back, and the projection is that the earth is free from such for the next 15 million years. The scientists have geared their efforts to establish the existence of a possible “dark star” in the skies called Nemesis which has a likelihood of engulfing the solar system once in every 26 million years (Babadzhanov et al. 168). When Nemesis nears the solar system, it follows the path extending the Pluto’s orbit and which is abundant in a vast network of comets. The passage of the Nemesis would block the way for the successful travel of the comets forcing them to move towards the direction of the sun thus causing a collision with the earth.
Some meteors have succeeded to land on the earth’s surface and become meteorites, the more reason to believe that the earth is at the risk of further strikes from other larger objects. In about 100 years ago, several people have missed meteorites narrowly. For example, in 1938, an Illinois woman heard some sounds coming from her garage, and when she went to find what was happening, she encountered a meteorite on top of her vehicle. Shortly after, another woman from Alabama developed a severe bruise on her hip after a ricocheting meteorite hit on her.
In 1971, another meteorite hit a house in Connecticut, Wethersfield. The same region experienced a similar meteorite attack eleven years later which hit a house about one mile away from the previous structure. Another incident that is an ideal example of a recorded meteorite attack happened in 1992 when an object hit the trunk of a 1980 Chevy Malibu car model belonging to a woman and smashed it. The lady received compensation worth $69,000 for the damages suffered which was an advantage since the vehicle was not worth that much after 12 years of usage. The meteorite that hit the car was 30 pounds. However, these are only small impacts of meteorite attacks.
Humans should not wait to become extinct like the dinosaurs to take action against the impact of meteors, asteroids, or comets. As long as the populations know the potential danger of the impact, they can plan to destroy these elements. An ideal example in which humans can confront the fall of the comets, meteors, or asteroids is launching a robotic probe that will fly alongside space rocks that threaten the citizens. The robot will use a gravitational tug to nudge the space rock and lessen its risk (Morrison 442). The design and implementation of this strategy need immediate attention to determine the success of the project.
Humans must employ their asteroid, comet, or meteor-deflecting techniques now and in future. Even though the catastrophe is not likely to happen in the next 100 years, it is advisable that humans nurture this knowledge and will be better placed to respond when signs of a catastrophe are clear. Moreover, citizens across the globe must cooperate in the efforts to mount asteroid deflection mission. The nation must collaborate internationally and gather the necessary space launch resources (Morrison 447). There is danger in nudging an incoming asteroid, comet, or meteor since it could move from one country to another. Therefore, global cooperation is necessary to meet the heavy cost of the exercise (Morrison 451).
The report has differentiated between meteors, asteroids, and comets and discussed the various instances where each of them happened and the impact created. The research has also provided the different remedies that can save populations from future catastrophes such as the creation of a robot that will nudge the space rocks hanging in the air. States across the globe must unite to fund the procedure which requires a substantial sum. Citizens should refresh their deflecting skills and stay armed to confront the attacks of a meteor, asteroid, or comet.
Babadzhanov, P. B., G. I. Kokhirova, and Yu V. Obrubov. “Extinct comets and asteroid-meteoroid complexes.” Solar System Research 49.3 (2015): 165-172.
Napier, Bill, and David Asher. “The Tunguska impact event and beyond.” Astronomy & Geophysics 50.1 (2009): 1-18.
Shin, Yabushita, and Jacques, Henrard. “Dynamics of Comets and Asteroids and Their Role in Earth History.” New York, NY: Springer, 2013. Pgs. 78-189.
Sephton, Mark A. “Meteorite gases and planetary atmospheres.” Astronomy & Geophysics 51.5 (2010): 5-21.
Morrison, David. “Impacts and Evolution: Protecting Earth from Asteroids.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 154.4 (2010): 439-450.
Dubeck, Leroy, W., Suzanne, E. Moshier, Judith, E. Boss. “Fantastic Voyages: Learning Science Through Science Fiction Films, Second edition”. New York, NY: Springer, 2006.Pgs. 43-47.