Researchers at the SETI Institute spotted something odd on New Year’s Eve over New Zealand. A stream of meteor showers appeared out of nowhere and now scientists around the world are scrambling to figure out where it originated and whether the parent body of that shower could be headed towards earth.
The shower, dubbed the Volantids, had not been seen before and has never been identified on previous radar observations, suggesting that a new, as of yet unknown object has now entered our solar system.
A new network of video surveillance cameras in New Zealand has detected a surprise meteor shower on New Year’s Eve. The shower is called the Volantids, named after the constellation Volans, the flying fish, from which the meteoroids appear to stream towards us.
“In a way, the shower helped chase bad spirits away,” says SETI Institute meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens. “Now we have an early warning that we should be looking for a potentially hazardous comet in that orbit.”
Jenniskens and Baggaley describe the network and report on the new result in a paper submitted for publication in the Journal of the International Meteor Organization. The paper characterizes the trajectories of 21 Volantids measured on December 31, and two more on January 1.
“These were naked-eye meteors and rates peaked at the time of the local New Year’s Eve celebrations,” notes Jenniskens. “One out of three meteors that night came from this shower.”
The shower was not seen the year before and is not known from past radar observations.
“A confined stream of dust particles must have been steered into Earth’s path for a brief moment,” says co-author and meteoroid stream dynamicist Rachel Soja of the University of Stuttgart, Germany, who calculated that the Earth will be safe from the comet and its debris in the near future.
The meteoroids move in a fairly steeply inclined orbit similar to that of some Jupiter-family type comets.
“The parent body of this stream still eludes us,” says Soja. “It may not be active now and the high inclination may make it difficult to spot.”
Source: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI Institute)
The body from which the New Year’s Eve shower originated is likely a meteor or comet, but given that it was visible from the Southern hemisphere and has yet to be identified, there will no doubt be speculation that it could be the long-rumored Planet-X making an appearance.
Some reports have suggested that the planet, identified in historical and religious texts like the Bible, makes a pass around Earth on a 3,600 year orbit. Though no official evidence of the planet has ever been confirmed, various reports, including a NASA press release from 1983 suggests that it may exist. That report was retracted by NASA the following year.
Astronomers did identify a tenth planet that is larger than Pluto sitting on the outer edges of our solar system in 2005, but data indicate this planet has not left its orbit, making it highly unlikely that it is the so-called planet Nibiru of ancient texts.
While we certainly can’t say that Earth is on a collision course with an asteroid or planetary body in the immediate future, the head of NASA issued a cryptic warning in the summer of 2011 advising employees to prepare their families and friends for an as of yet unknown threat:
NASA recently participated in a FEMA exercise called Eagle Horizon that was a part of a continuity of operations of government exercise that we do annually, and I became aware of some things that concerned me about family preparedness…
So, what I’m asking all of you in the NASA family, whether you’re out on the West coast, here on the east coast, along the Gulf Coast, up on the Great Lakes, think about the natural disasters that could occur in your area.Think about attacks that could come like 9-11, from outside forces, and talk to your family about your work and what they need to do to prepare for the unforeseen.
Develop a family preparedness plan in your house.
In the Fall of 2015 public concern over a massive asteroid headed towards Earth was so significant that NASA actually issued a press release denying that a large body would strike the planet any time in the next several hundred years.
A NASA spokesman said: “NASA knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small.
“In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”
So, for the time being, NASA says we’re safe and according to SETI-linked scientists, it is highly improbable that the Volantid meteor shower is an indicator of an impending global disaster.
But, considering we are only able to observe a small portion of the sky, we certainly can’t rule it out.