Was this the one Mayans miscalculated, it may have been heading our way had it not been for Jupiter. Jupiter is the solar system ‘cosmic vacuum cleaner.’ No Jupiter and life on Earth may not even have started forget about extinction, we would have had regular visits from huge deadly asteroids every ten million years or so.
As the people of Earth carried out their lives unaware, it seems our gas giant neighbour took a forceful blow to the side at about 11.35 am GMT yesterday. On the right is the moment Jupiter was struck by a mighty meteorite 22/12/2012 – and our only record of it is one image, captured by a lone webcam chugging away in the early hours of the morning.
Many astronomers believe life would not have got started on Earth with Jupiter’s influence – and before our solar system settled down, Earth was frequently bombarded with giant impacts. Jupiter has been known as the ‘cosmic vacuum cleaner’ of the solar system. Chicxulub crater in Mexico, is the relic of the massive impact which is believed to have triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Asteroids are the remnants of stillborn planets which were leftovers of terrestrial and Jovian planets. In 1802 William was the first to suggest that the irregularly shaped bodies be placed into a separate category, named asteroids, after the Greek asteroeides, meaning star-like. They are rocky with very small amounts of ices. Roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter is the region known as the asteroid belt. Numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids or minor planets occupy this region. Main belt is another term for the asteroid belt region so it is distinguished from other concentrations of minor planets within the Solar System like the Kuiper belt and scattered disk.
The objects in the solar system can be classified as: terrestrial planets, Jovian planets, asteroids or comets. Among the eight planets in our solar system, four inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, are called terrestrial planets. The other four outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, are called Jovian planets. Jovian planets are beyond the frost line (a.k.a snow line) which lies between Mars and Jupiter.
The planet’s mass and large orbit sweeps up the scattered meteors that are relics from the early days of our solar system formation, with the planet either ‘taking the bullet’ itself, or deflecting orbits away from the inner planets. At the beginning of the formation of asteroids, the remnants of stillborn planets were everywhere in our solar system. Especially, Jupiter scattered large ones. As those large remnants from Jupiter disturbed the ones in the region between Mars and Jupiter, their velocities increased and catastrophic disruptions occurred among them. The disruptions created more asteroids. Thus, most asteroids are between Mars and Jupiter. Almost more than 50% of the mass within the asteroid belt is contained in its four largest objects: Ceres, 4 Vesta, 2 Pallas, and 10 Hygiea.
There are also asteroids primarily in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and comets mostly in the Kuiper belt which is just beyond the former planet, Pluto. On January 1, 1801, the Chair of Astronomy at the University of Palermo, Sicily, found a tiny moving object in the asteroid belt and called it Ceres, which is the smallest dwarf planet that has been identified in the Solar System and is the only one in the asteroid belt. Ceres is also by far the most massive and largest body in the asteroid belt and contains 1/3 of the belt’s total mass. On July 16, 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to traverse the asteroid belt. NASA’s latest mission to explore the asteroid belt is the Dawn Mission, which was dispatched to explore Vesta and Ceres.
Man fingers in the cosmic soup: Between July 15, 1972, and February 15, 1973, it became the first spacecraft to traverse the asteroid belt. Imaging of Jupiter began November 6, 1973, at a range of 25 million km, and a total of more than 500 images were transmitted. The closest approach to the planet was on December 4, 1973, at a range of 132,252 km. During the mission, the on-board instruments were used to study the asteroid belt, the environment around Jupiter, solar wind, cosmic rays, and eventually the far reaches of the solar system and heliosphere. Communication was lost on January 23, 2003, due to power constraints, with the probe at a distance of 12 billion kilometers (80 AU) from Earth.
Pioneer 10 will continue to coast silently as a ghost ship into interstellar space, heading generally for the red star Aldebaran, which forms the eye of the constellation Taurus (The Bull). Aldebaran is about 68 light-years away. It will take Pioneer 10 more than two million years to reach it. Its sister ship, Pioneer 11, ended its mission September 30, 1995, when the last transmission from the spacecraft was received. On September 9, 2012, Pioneer 10 was 106.696 AU (1.59615×1010 km; 9.918×109 mi) from the Earth and 106.676 AU (1.59585×1010 km; 9.9162×109 mi) from the Sun; and traveling at 12.037 km/s (26,930 mph) (relative to the Sun) and travelling outward at about 2.539 AU per year. Sunlight takes 14.79 hours to get to Pioneer 10. The brightness of the Sun from the spacecraft is magnitude -16.6. Pioneer 10 is heading in the direction of the constellation Taurus.
The high population of the asteroid belt makes for a very active environment, where collisions between asteroids occur frequently (on astronomical time scales). Collisions between main-belt bodies with a mean radius of 10 km are expected to occur about once every 10 million years. A collision may fragment an asteroid into numerous smaller pieces (leading to the formation of a new asteroid family). Conversely, collisions that occur at low relative speeds may also join two asteroids. A September 2007 study has suggested that a large-body collision undergone by the asteroid 298 Baptistina sent a number of fragments into the inner Solar System. The impacts of these fragments are believed to have created both Tycho crater on the Moon and Chicxulub crater in Mexico, the relict of the massive impact which is believed to have triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
After more than 4 billion years of such processes, the members of the asteroid belt now bear little resemblance to the original population. Some of the debris from collisions can form meteoroids that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Of the 50,000 meteorites found on Earth to date, 99.8 percent are believed to have originated in the asteroid belt. The zodiacal light, created in part by dust from collisions in the asteroid belt.