Impending asteroids, interchangeable North Stars and rings around Mars, what do future astronomical events have in store for the universe (and for planet earth)?
The north star swap
When undertaking peregrinations into the wild, we often seek guidance from the celestial arbiter Polaris, commonly known as the North Star. However, due to the effects of ‘precession’ (like when you nudge a spinning top) the earth’s ‘spin axis’ changes and with it, our North Star. In 3000 B.C.Alpha Draconis was the North Star and 13,000 years from now it will be Vega.
For centuries, soothsayers have predicted our cosmic extinction. But your 26 times great-grandchildren (in about 800 years) may have genuine cause for concern. In 2880, there’ll be a 1-in-300 chance of Asteroid (29075) 1950 DA colliding with earth, the only asteroid considered to have a PalermoTechnical Impact Hazard Scale above the background level.
The longest eclipse
On 16 July 2186, earth will be plunged into darkness for seven minutes and 29 seconds. This will be the longest eclipse in a span of over 12,000 years (4000 BCE to 8000 CE). Astronomers speculate this might be, or is at least close to, the theoretical maximum duration of a solar eclipse based on current astronomic conditions.
The Florida based Moon Express has already raised $45 million to launch three expeditions to the Moon, with the final mission ending in an exploratory mining excursion, aptly named Harvest Moon. With the maiden flight of their Lunar Scout shuttle set for this year, we might all have our own lunar artefact as early as 2020.
Mars gets rings (or explodes)
The red planet has two satellites: Phobos and Deimos. Phobos has a shorter lunar orbit than any other in our solar system. This close proximity to the surface, together with tidal interactions, means that in eight million years, one of two things will happen. Either it will break apart and form rings or it will crash into the surface like a giant nuclear bomb.
Words: Matt Iredale