Was human life on Earth almost destroyed by a comet 130 years ago?

Mexican astronomer José Bonilla noticed hundreds of fuzzy objects passing in front of the sun in August 1883.

At the time, Bonilla had no idea what he was looking at. All he knew was that over a period of about two days, he counted about 450 objects surrounded by fuzziness passing between his telescope and the sun. Contemporary astronomers didn’t see anything, and when Bonilla published a paper in an astronomical journal a few years later, the journal editor suggested that Bonilla must have accidentally been counting birds or bugs or something like that.

New interpretations of his data indicate that the objects were fragments of a comet passing really close to Earth. Since the fragments blocked out the sun for Bonilla, but apparently not for other observers around the globe, that means they must have been so close to Earth that the observer’s location determined their position against the background of the sun. (Measuring objects against their background is called parallax.)

Possibly as close as 400 miles away. For reference, the International Space Station (which is not truly in space, but in the middle of the thermosphere layer of our atmosphere) is 250 miles away. The moon is 238,855 miles away.

If it had hit, it would have been an extinction-level event for sure. We probably would have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Lucky for us, it was a near miss.

Read the whole article here.

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4 Responses to Was human life on Earth almost destroyed by a comet 130 years ago?

  1. Marco says:

    Cool, but some factual errors. We would be around in 1908, and we definitelt would know if 80 million trees were just knocked over in 1908 you know. Just saying. Besides that, it’s cool

  2. dallen says:

    Hi Marco,

    Thanks for taking the time to read the linked article. You’re talking about the Siberian explosion of 1908–it did happen and we do know about it. When the article said “nobody was around to see it” it didn’t mean that humans weren’t alive, it just means that nobody was living in Siberia where the explosion occurred, at least not anybody who recorded about it.

    Mr. Allen

  3. Chris Schiller Chris Schiller Chris Schiller Chris Schiller Chris Schiller says:

    It’s a good thing that it didn’t hit us!

  4. Gabe Straus says:

    I find the amount of hysteria generated by predictions of “apocalypse by space rock” pathetic. We know of many meteoroids near Earth and could deflect them if necessary. Another useful fact: only one (1!) creature has been known to have been directly killed by a space impact in the entirety of human history: a dog, in Egypt, in 1911.

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