Why Jupiter is Our Best Defense For An ‘Armageddon’
Forget the space laser. We just need Jupiter.
There are few things worse than a real-life Armageddon scenario. If a giant asteroid actually headed for Earth like in the classic 1998 film, Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis wouldn’t be able to help us out and all life would be destroyed. And possibly the worst part would be that Aerosmith song would be stuck in all of our heads while it happened. But fortunately, it’s not likely that we’d experience the events of the Armageddon in real life, and we have Jupiter to thank.
Jupiter has been low-key protecting the Earth from cosmic dangers. Jupiter is huge. So huge that its mass pulls in various asteroids and comets that would otherwise pummel the inner planets. It’s believed that Jupiter gets pounded by space rocks 8,000 times more than we do, if not more. We can’t observe the far side of Jupiter, so that number might be way higher. This is why we call Jupiter “the vacuum cleaner of the solar system.” It’s not because Jupiter sucks.
Jupiter doesn’t just absorb comets. It also changes their trajectory. When long-period comets enter the solar system, Jupiter’s gravity flings them to the outer reaches of the solar system before you can say, “I don’t wanna miss a thang.” The new orbits are so long that the comets will take hundreds or thousands of years to loop around again. Scientists think that many of the objects of the Oort cloud, a collection of icy pieces of space debris in the furthest part of our solar system, were flung there by Jupiter.
In other planetary systems, giant Jupiter-like planets have been known to wander off from the place where they originally formed. Their orbit starts spiraling inward and closer to their star, leaving a wake of destruction in their path as they swallow up smaller, rocky planets – or fling those planets out of the star system with their strong gravity. We’re lucky that Jupiter has never done this to us. Yet.
But if Jupiter-esque planets stays where they are, the planet acts like a true guardian of the galaxy, protecting the other planets from the wayward space rock that could cause cataclysmic disaster upon impact. This allows the planets its shielding to maintain stable climates over long period of time, creating conditions for life a la Earth.
Astronomers have witnessed Jupiter saving our skin on more than one occasion. In 1994, astronomers observed Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashing into Jupiter, and in 2009, astronomers found a dark gash on the side of the gas giant which is largely believed to be caused by a comet.
So, the next time someone puts on a VHS tape of Armageddon, you can “um, well, actually,” them all over the place. Because, um, well, actually, Jupiter would prevent this whole situation from happening, so they never would have to put a team together because they would never need to blow up the asteroid because it would already be absorbed by Jupiter and if they’re scientists, they would know that.