Jupiter’s gravity could trigger chain reaction of planetary collisions one dayJune 11th, 2009 - 12:25 pm ICT by ANI
Sydney, June 11 (ANI: In a grim scenario put forward by scientists, the gravity of Jupiter could one day pull Mercury off course, triggering a chain reaction of collisions in the Solar System.
But despite the threat, there’s only a 1 percent chance of this happening in the next 5 billion years, said French researchers.
“These are some pretty impressive simulations,” Australian planet scientist, Dr Simon O’Toole, of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, told ABC News.
“When you try and calculate the orbits of planets, it’s not a simple matter of writing down a couple of equations and plugging in some numbers. It’s a really difficult chaotic problem where you need to run a lot different possibilities,” he added.
O’Toole said that previous research has suggested the outer planets could affect the orbits of the inner planets through the influence of gravity.
He said that the supercomputer simulations conducted by Dr Jacques Laskar and Mickael Gastineau from the Observatoire de Paris are the most precise predictions yet.
“They took very very precise measurement of the positions of the planets as they are now and then worked forward and asked what could happen, what were all the possibilities,” said O’Toole.
According to O’Toole, the orbits of most planets are approximately circular, but Mercury’s orbit is about 20 percent deformed, rendering it more vulnerable to being disturbed by the gravity of large outer planets like Jupiter.
Jupiter can pull Mercury out of its orbit, especially when the two planets line up on the same side of the Sun.
“It’s like a tug of war,” said O’Toole.
He said that Mercury could eventually cross the orbit of Venus and collide with Venus, or - just as bad - the Sun.
O’Toole said that if Mercury did collide with Venus, it would be catastrophic and make our concerns about kilometre sized asteroids hitting the Earth pale into insignificance.
“It would be very, very bad for everyone in the vicinity,” he said. “Several hundred or several thousand-kilometre sized chunks of planet would wipe out life as we know it, basically,” he added.
O’Toole said that after the collision, Venus’ orbit itself would then be disturbed and a “chain reaction” would result where Earth could collide with Venus or Mars.
But, according to O’Toole, there’s no need to panic right now.
He said that Laskar and Gastineau have calculated there’s only a 1 percent chance this will happen in the next 5 billion years. (ANI)
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Tags: abc news, asteroids hitting the earth, australian observatory, dr simon, french researchers, gastineau, gravity of jupiter, grim scenario, inner planets, insignificance, jacques laskar, observatoire de paris, orbits of planets, outer planets, precise measurement, precise predictions, previous research, sized asteroids, supercomputer simulations, tug of war