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Sun Changes Asteroid Orbits

It's been discovered that the force of sunlight on an asteroid can change its orbit, which is one reason why asteroids change direction and head for Earth. What we don't know is this: Will the increased solar activity on the sun right now have an increased effect on asteroids?

Eugenie Samuel Reich writes in New Scientist that astronomers have detected the influence of sunlight on asteroids for the first time, since it's very subtle. However, it's enough to coax them out of the Solar System's asteroid belt and into an orbit that can impact Earth.

Scientists know of five mass extinctions in the Earth's history, and the reasons for most of them remain mysterious. The one that occurred about 250 million years ago killed 90% of all species. Dinosaurs evolved afterwards, but were finally killed off 65 million years ago, after an asteroid impact. Now scientists say the extinction of 250 million years ago, which was the largest in Earth's history, was also caused by an asteroid.

Researchers have concluded this from the discovery of rare mineral grains, that must have come from space, that have been found in ancient rocks in Antarctica. They've also found tiny capsules of helium and argon gases, which are commonly found in space, trapped inside rocks from this period.

Astronomers are calling for more funding to detect asteroids that may be heading our way. With the current solar activity, and our history of impacts, let's hope they get it.

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