Over the last two decades, the discovery of hundreds of giant comets, termed Centaurs, on unstable orbits in the outer planetary system means that these objects pose a much greater hazard to life than asteroids, according to a team of UK astronomers. Centaurs are typically 50 to 100 kilometres across, or larger, and a single such body contains more mass than the entire population of Earth-crossing asteroids found to date.
The planet Mercury is being pelted regularly by bits of dust from an ancient comet, a new study has concluded. Comet Encke has the shortest period of any comet, returning to perihelion every 3.3 years. The dust from the comet affects Mercury’s tenuous atmosphere and may lead to a new understanding on how these airless bodies maintain their ethereal envelopes.
The terrestrial fireworks of recent Bonfire Night(s) celebrations in the UK have masked a rather unusual display of natural illuminations, as we are in the midst of the Taurid meteor showers. However, this year’s display of celestial fireworks not only occurs near a new Moon for dark skies, but the double-peaked shower is currently showing signs of unusually high activity similar to the fireball-rich display of 2005.
From the evening of Wednesday, 12 August into the early hours of the following morning, it is the maximum of the annual Perseid meteor shower. This year, a new Moon makes prospects for watching this natural firework display particularly good. So, find somewhere away from the streetlights, settle into a garden lounger facing northeast, and enjoy the show!