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Meet Swift Tuttle, the comet responsible for the Perseids, the biggest star shower of the year

This comet, which was once believe to be a danger to mankind, is one of the biggest objects with the closest trajectory to the Earth.

Objects responsible for different astronomical phenomena are constantly passing near the Earth. Still, there is none like Swift Tuttle that generates the biggest star shower of the celestial vault, the Perseids. This is the largest object in the Solar System that periodically passes very close to us; so much so that at some point it was thought that in the future it would hit the Earth, although this theory was later discarded.

Swift-Tuttle is a comet with an elliptical trajectory that has a fairly large nucleus, 26 kilometers wide. This measurement places it as the largest object that approaches our planet every 133 years and in fact, at some point astronomers thought that in one of these approaches to Earth, it could generate a collision with the planet. However, at its last perigee in 1992, researchers had the opportunity to take more precise measurements and were able to rule out a future collision with the Earth.

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The comet, discovered independently by Lewis Swift on July 16, 1862, and by Horace Parnell Tuttle on July 19, 1862, has a charm that makes it very attractive to cosmonauts. It is responsible for the fact that every year we can observe one of the most incredible meteor showers, the Perseids.

Although this meteor shower is not exactly the one that presents the most meteors per hour, it is the one that generates the brightest meteors of all and that is the reason why it is the favorite of shooting star hunters.

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The most dangerous object known to mankind

Like all comets known as ‘dirty snowballs’, Swift-Tuttle is a gigantic ball of dust, ice, rock, and dark organic material orbiting the Sun. However, it has a rather erratic behavior which is the reason why it was thought that at some point it would collide with the Earth, as it has a very steep elliptical trajectory.

It follows a steep slope compared to all bodies orbiting our host star. Astronomers have said that the comet dives into the Solar System to go around the Sun and then leaves it again.

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It is because of this trajectory that researchers once considered it to be ‘the most dangerous object known to mankind”, due to its orbit with a large, sharp slope. In addition, the 130-year period of approach to Earth had astronomers expecting it to collide with Earth at some point.

But that changed when it came close to us again in 1992 and then the calculations redirected the collision possibilities, which were reduced to almost nil. Instead, we were left only with the satisfaction of crossing each year with the debris left in its path and with this, admiring the star shower par excellence, the Perseids.

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Story originally published in Ecoosfera

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