A team of researchers in the Czech Republic has found evidence to suggest Earth is at greater risk of being hit by an asteroid than was previously thought.
After performing an analysis of 144 Taurid fireballs, astronomers from the Czech Academy of Sciences were able to determine the orbits of these fireballs, and found 113 of them show “common characteristics and form together a well-defined orbital structure, which we call a new branch of the Taurids meteor stream.”
Orbit comparison showed that this “new branch” of Taurids contains at least two asteroids of 200–300 meters wide—the impact of which could cause major destruction should it hit a populated area of the planet.
“Since asteroids of sizes of tens to hundreds of meters pose a threat to the ground, even if they are intrinsically weak, impact hazard increases significantly when the Earth encounters the Taurids new branch every few years,” the scientists wrote.
The Taurid meteoroid stream produces at least four meteor showers on Earth: two are active at night from the end of September until the beginning of December, and two in the daytime from the end of May to the middle of July.
Study author Jiří Borovička said in an e-mail to Newsweek that at present the academy does not have enough data to quantify the risk the branch poses to Earth. “The impact risk increases during the encounters of the Earth with the branch.”
Borovička describes the risk of Earth being hit by a large asteroid as a “lottery”—or “to be hit by a bullet or not.”
Borovička and colleagues say that, “Further studies leading to a better description of this real source of potentially hazardous objects, which can be large enough to cause significant regional or even continental damage, are therefore extremely important.”
Their findings are well timed: Asteroid Day, a global awareness campaign to highlight the risk asteroids pose to Earth, takes place on June 30.