The dinosaur-killing comet may have come from the edge of the solar system

The artist’s illustration of a comet on its way to Earth.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Harvard’s most controversial astronomer has a new theory about the space rock that took the dinosaurs out. He says there is reason to believe it came further away than previously thought.

Avi Loeb has been making waves for a few years now by arguing for the first interstellar object ever Oumuamua could be a random piece of alien technology far beyond our solar system. But his latest paper has nothing to do with it.

Loeb and Harvard University astrophysics student Amir Siraj suggests in a new study published Monday in Scientific Reports that the Chicxulub Impactor, which ended the reign of the Thunder Peaches, originates from the edge of our own solar system.

A popular theory about the dinosaur’s death says that the influence probably originates from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but Loeb and Siraj use statistical analysis and gravity simulations to calculate that several Earth influences actually originate from the distant Oort cloud where most long-lived comets come. from.

The couple’s calculations suggest that some of these comets may be knocked off track on their journey toward the inner solar system with potentially catastrophic consequences.

“The solar system works like a kind of pinball machine,” Siraj explained in a statement. “Jupiter, the most massive planet, kicks incoming long-lived comets into orbit, bringing them very close to the sun.”

So-called sungrazer comets can then be torn apart by pulling on the sun’s gravity.

“And crucially, on the journey back to the Oort cloud, there is an increased likelihood that one of these fragments will hit Earth,” Siraj said.


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The study finds that the odds of such an impact are significantly higher than previously thought, and that the new impact rate is consistent with the age of the Chicxulub impact crater in the Gulf of Mexico. A comet fragment from the Oort cloud also matches the unusual makeup of the impact body better than an asteroid closer to home.

Even more important than solving the mystery of what killed the dinosaurs, Loeb says that a deeper understanding of natural traffic from deep space could also be important if a potential impact force were to threaten our planet in the future.

“It must have been a great sight,” he said, “but we will not see it again.”

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