New study indicates Milky Way could be slinging asteroids toward Earth

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Apr 29, 2014, 6:25 PM EDT (Updated)

A new study seems to indicate the make up of the Milky Way is a little different than we’d thought, and it could be slinging asteroids at the little blue marble we call home.

The Harvard study has found that dark matter could be at the heart of keeping the Milky Way galaxy together, but the gravitational pull has a little side effect: It slings asteroids around, and could have sent the one that caused the last mass extinction that took out the dinosaurs.

Space reports that scientists have recently suggested that a thin, dense disk of dark matter about 35 light-years thick lies along the central plane of the Milky Way, which helps keep the Milky Way together while other galaxies are spinning apart from the crazy high speeds.

Researchers suggest that this disk of dark matter at the heart of the galaxy could disturb the orbits of comets in the outer solar system, hurling them inward. That’s a problem, especially for us, since our solar system is in that general vicinity.

Theoretical physicists Lisa Randall and Matthew Reece at Harvard University suggest this gravitational wackiness could cause an increase in asteroid strikes, which had been theoretically credited to a potential companion star for the sun. The team believes the rise and fall of asteroid strikes match up with a 35-million-year cycle, which could give credence to the theory. 

Though the concept is just a theory at the moment, researchers hope the European Space Agency's 2013 Gaia mission could confirm or negate the theory of a dark-matter disk. Gaia is tasked with creating a precise 3D map of stars throughout the Milky Way, and will be our most detailed tracking effort yet of those motions.

What do you think? Will a dark-matter disk be the end of us all?

(via Space)