EARTH is being bombarded by an spate of potentially apocalyptic asteroids strikes, NASA data has revealed. Deep space is a dangerous place, with deadly radiation doses, freezing temperatures and unimaginable pressures. And even Earth is not totally immune from extraterrestrial peril because exceptional circumstances sees our planet pummelled by space rock.
Now data released by US space agency NASA has revealed the asteroid impact rate is actually increasing.
It is a bit like a rising tide; you have a lot of material coming out of the asteroid belt at one point
Although extremely rare, asteroid strikes hold the potential to pulverise the planet.
In just a geologic blink of an eye, most of life on Earth, including the dinosaurs, went extinct 66 million years ago.
The cause of the this mass extinction event – known as the K-T impact – was most likely a massive asteroid impact.
Asteroid strike: Space rocks are striking our planet three times more often
Apollo 11: Some of the research data used Apollo samples
And researchers now believe asteroids are slamming into Earth at almost three times the rate as when dinosaurs roamed the world.
One of the scientists involved in the study has exclusively explained how they calculated the collision increase.
Dr Gernon, Associate Professor in Earth Science at Southampton University, said: “The Moon is our nearest neighbour so gets hits by the same population of asteroids.
“For that reason it provides a neat achieve of impacts, as it is unlike the Earth, which is affected by erosion and plate tectonics that disturb impact craters.
“We were able to use the samples collected by NASA astronauts during the Apollo missions to date some of the craters.
“And we were able to use this data set to calibrate a new technique of dating craters using measurements taken onboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.”
The idea is that collision blast produces lots of big rocks, and over billion year time-scales these rocks break down after being bombarded by many micro-meteorites.
And additionally they heat-up by day and cool-down by night, stressing the rock and breaking them up.
Asteroid strike: The K-T impact most likely killed the dinosaurs
Asteroid strikes: The asteroid belt is found between Mars and Jupiter
This allowed researchers to discovered a link between rock abundance and the age.
Dr Gernon outlines how our Solar System’s asteroid belt is the most likely explanation for the threefold strike increase pummelling the Earth and its Moon.
He said: “In the asteroid belt, fitting somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, some of these space rocks sometimes collide.
“The break up of one or more asteroids will potentially generate lots of fragments, which over time can get nudged towards the Earth.
“Over time these rocks get bombarded by sunlight and there is a process which re-emits this energy, and basically gives these fragments a tiny nudge, which can then send them on a collisional path towards Earth.
“It is a bit like a rising tide; you have a lot of material coming out of the asteroid belt at one point.”
Dr Gernon, however, is at pains to stress how rare Earth apocalyptic impacts are even if the probability is doubled or even tripled, saying: “There is no need for people to worry about this increased flux.
“We are saying large asteroid impacts – more than 1 km across – went from one every 3-5 million years prior to 90 million years ago, to roughly 1-2 every million years.”
Asteroid strike: NASA has a dedicated program for monitoring Near Earth Objects
And although this represents an increase, asteroids strikes are random events, so does not mean Earth is overdue for another collision.
And additionally, NASA has a dedicated program for monitoring Near Earth Objects (NEOs).
All of the space junk that are potentially hazardous to earth are being monitored and there is a US defence department who work with NASA who keep an eye on impact risks.
The University of Southampton’s Dr Gernon believes we can learn a lot about Earth from looking at the Moon.
He said: “We can all see those pockmarks on the Moon and it is just fascinating to look at them and think we can exploit data being collected as speak to further our understanding of how our Earth has been affected by these events over time.”