Jupiter increases chance of comet strike

August 24, 2007

It helps in other ways. The worst case is if Jupiter were the size of Saturn. It would basically be big enough to increase the bad effects but not quite big enough to contribute the good.
clipped from space.newscientist.com

Earth experienced an especially heavy bombardment of asteroids and comets early in the solar system's history (Illustration: Julian Baum)
Earth experienced an especially heavy bombardment of asteroids and comets early in the solar system’s history

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, Jupiter does not protect Earth from comet strikes. In fact, Earth would suffer fewer impacts without the influence of Jupiter’s gravity, a new study says. It could have implications for determining which solar systems are most hospitable to life.

A 1994 study showed that replacing Jupiter with a much smaller planet like Uranus or Neptune would lead to 1000 times as many long-period comets hitting Earth. This led to speculation that complex life would have a hard time developing in solar systems without a Jupiter-like planet because of more intense bombardment by comets.

But a new study by Jonathan Horner and Barrie Jones of Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, shows that if there were no planet at all in Jupiter’s orbit, Earth would actually be safer from impacts.

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