The last Taurid swarm to impact our planet brought down 80 million trees. While that, fortunately, occurred in the middle of Siberia, scientists are concerned we're due for another sooner rather than later.
In 1908 a cluster of meteors, known as the Taurid swarm, hurtling through outer space found their way to the Tunguska forest in Siberia. The impact was so devastating that 80 million trees were flattened in an instant — across 800 square miles. The Tunguska event was believed by scientists to take place perhaps every 1,000 years, but a new study from Western Ontario University claims otherwise.
According to CBS News, Earth routinely passes through the Taurid meteor stream and when it does, the subsequent shower of extraterrestrial debris is called a Taurid swarm. Near Earth Objects (NEOs), like comets, meteors, and asteroids, could wreak continental devastation on our planet should they collide with Earth. But while some experts don’t fear the impending threat of a Taurid swarm, others certainly do.
When our planet travels through the Taurid meteor stream, as it is believed to have done in 1908, it comes into close contact with a trail of debris left behind by the Comet Encke, which then clusters together and roars through Earth’s atmosphere at 65,000 mph. As the comet’s dust burns up in the atmosphere it can rain down on to the planet in a fantastic meteor shower. NASA explained that this Taurid meteor shower is usually quite weak, though some years are different than others, as in the case of the Tunguska event.
In any case, researchers at Western Ontario University believe that a large collision with a Taurid swarm is far more likely than previously hypothesized.
This very summer, for instance, Earth will be within 18,641,135 miles of the Taurid stream’s center. This will be the closest our planet has been to the stream since 1975. On a brighter note, this will also allow for the best viewing opportunity of the cosmic phenomenon until at least the early 2030s.
Fortunately, this rare proximity will not only delight casual onlookers but serve as the best opportunity for experts to study the Taurid stream — and gauge its potential risks.
“There is strong meteoric and NEO evidence supporting the Taurid swarm and its potential existential risks, but this summer brings a unique opportunity to observe and quantify these objects,” explained David Clark, lead author of the study and a graduate student at the university.
As it stands, the researchers aren’t ringing any global alarm bells just yet. The Taurid swarm is currently not expected to cause any danger, but experts will most certainly keep their eye on it using the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope at the University of Hawaii this August.
Hopefully, what they’ll find is evidence indicating we still have around 900 years left before another Tunguska incident threatens the upright nature of our trees — and ours.