Shooting stars could hide large meteorites

In a few days, the Earth will pass more extremely close to the center of the Beta Taurides swarm. For astronomers, it will be an opportunity to check if there are no large pieces hiding in it, such as fragments of a comet that could collide with the Earth.

Soon, from June 5 until around July 18, the Earth will cut the road with a current of debris left by the comet 2P /Encke. The rain of shooting stars associated, called Beta Taurides, is certainly not as famous and spectacular as the Perseids (whose peak of activity is August 12-13), but it is particularly interesting for astronomers anxious to check if a branch of this meteoritic swarm would not hide within it one or more large chunks of comets, as has been suspected for several decades.

It is notably the Tunguska event of June 30th, 1908 which set everything in motion. Indeed, the object that exploded in the Siberian sky released an energy equivalent to 1,000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb – the shockwave had laid all the trees of this region within a radius of 100 kilometers. The analysis showed a trajectory that corresponded to that of the dust flow of Beta Taurides.

Also, researchers who are wondering about the true identity of this intruder had speculated that it could be a fragment of the comet Encke, the same one that feeds on the rain of shooting stars of Beta Taurides in summer. Moreover, in this regard, 2P / Encke would itself be a (small) piece of a giant comet – about 100 kilometers of diameter – which would have broken in the Internal Solar System between 10 and 20,000 years ago.

A meteoritic swarm under the gravitational influence of Jupiter

Other intriguing facts that could also be related to this stream of Beta Taurides and corroborate its existence: a significant increase in the impact of meteorites on the Moon recorded in 1975 by seismometers Apollo missions, as provided for the hypothesis called “Taurid Resonant Swarm.” The latter considers that the debris (most of them not larger than a grain of sand ) continue to be grouped under the influence of Jupiter, instead of dispersing.

Thus, when the Earth passes closer to the center of this complex, the collisions with this dust would be more frequent with a higher risk.

So do you have to worry? Are there other large debris that could drag in the wake of Encke and threaten the Earth? Obviously, we can not exclude the possibility. The time has come for astronomers to confirm or refute this conjecture by scrutinizing the swarm this summer. Indeed, according to models, the best time to monitor it, and therefore identify a possible (large) piece, would be between July 5 and 11 and between July 21 and August 10, this last window being most favorable for observers in the northern hemisphere.

But the task will not be easy because even if these fragments are large, they will be only very small bright spots for larger telescopes. In addition, seen from Earth, the proximity of the swarm with the Sun will be troublesome. We will know more at a later date.

Janice Clark

I'm a student at the University of Waterloo and am one of the main editors for 3LM News. I have many years of experience as a freelance writer and editor and, like Fred, have maintained an interest in astronomy from an early age.

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Janice Clark

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