Comet Swift-Tuttle: “warn danger”. 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 for why diasporas of light light up in the August sky year after year, contains endless fascinations, among them, is that the comet responsible for the Perseids is considered the most dangerous object known to humanity.
Before giving way to Swift-Tuttle, we must acknowledge that we owe it to millions of people around the world to look up at the exhausting summer sky and make their wishes.
Among the wonderful stories that are surely not true (although they should be), they say that Claudius Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer of the year 100 AD, was the one who triggered the custom of wishing on 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 wishes, dreams of love, glory, and those that allow you to pay your electricity bill (higher than ever).
What is not a legend is that one of the biggest night shows of the year, the Perseids, we don’t owe it to the gods, we owe it to a comet.
Comet Swift-Tuttle, formally 109P/Swift-Tuttle, is a huge 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 nucleus 26 km in diameter, two and a half times larger than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, and travels four times as fast.
The comet responsible for the Perseid meteor shower could strike Earth, causing devastating damage, but in 2,400 years with an impact equivalent to 20 million hydrogen bombs.
Calculations of the Swift-Tuttle comet’s orbit show Earth to be “100% safe” for the next 2,000 years. But in the year 4479, its orbit will take it “dangerously close to our planet.”
The chances of it hitting Earth are extremely low, with a 99.9999% chance of missing. But, a “gravitational kick” from Jupiter could send it hurtling toward Earth.
While the chance of it crashing into Earth is slim, experts say there’s a small chance its orbit would be offset by a “gravitational kick” from Jupiter, causing an impact with an energy 30 times greater than The one that killed the dinosaurs.
If it were to have an 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 the species in the Cretaceous, the one that hit what is now known as the Yucatan Peninsula, which is considered responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The impact of the comet responsible for the Perseids would release 28 times more energy, the equivalent of the explosion of 20,000,000 hydrogen bombs.
This would mean that the Perseids would stop illuminating the wishes of future humans. Meanwhile, like every year in August, we will enjoy the greatest celestial show of our lives.