I’ve always been fascinated with outer space, and lately I’ve been watching YouTube videos about comets and asteroids, and how they may have affected life on Earth through the eons. Almost everyone knows about the most famous impact, the meteor that slammed into the Yucatan and ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But objects have been pelting our planet for a long time.
Back in the mid 90s, when I was just finishing high school, I remember hearing about a comet called Shoemaker-Levy 9. At the time I was busy with worrying about my GPA and applying to college, so I didn’t pay much attention. Sure, comet passing by, cool, but I have stuff to do!
A couple of decades later, I encountered some discussions of this particular comet in some videos. In July 1994, Shoemaker-Levy 9, which was discovered by Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy, zoomed into our solar system, broke apart into 21 pieces, and crashed into Jupiter. The explosions caused by the impacts, which were observed and photographed by NASA, were astounding – each explosion was literally LARGER THAN PLANET EARTH.
Which means if any of the comet fragments had hit our planet, we wouldn’t be here now. Seriously. Earth would have been completely obliterated, leaving nothing but dust and vapor. YIKES.
The reason they didn’t hit us was because of the influence of Jupiter. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and its gravity is so strong that most comets and asteroids that fly through the solar system are pulled off course. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of instances through Earth’s history when deadly objects that could have hit us were pulled away or deflected instead. Shoemaker-Levy was just one recent example.
So, in other words, Jupiter saved our butts from total annihilation in 1994. And probably many other times too!
So the next time you look up into the sky, give a word of thanks for the largest planet in our solar system. Because of Jupiter’s protective influence, we still have a beautiful, vibrant planet to call home!
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