Exploring the role of the Sun’s motion in terrestrial comet impacts
Bailer-Jones, Coryn A. L.
The cratering record on the Earth and Moon shows that our planet has been exposed to high velocity impacts for much or all of its existence. Some of these craters were produced by the impact of long-period comets (LPCs). These probably originated in the Oort Cloud, and were put into their present orbits through gravitational perturbations arising from the Galactic tide and stellar encounters, both of which are modulated by the solar motion about the Galaxy. Here we construct dynamical models of these mechanisms in order to predict the time-varying impact rate of LPCs and the angular distribution of their perihelia (which is observed to be non-uniform). Comparing the predictions of these dynamical models with other models, we conclude that cometary impacts induced by the solar motion contribute only a small fraction of terrestrial impact craters over the past 250 Myr. Over this time-scale, the apparent cratering rate is dominated by a secular increase towards the present, which might be the result of the disruption of a large asteroid. Our dynamical models, together with the solar apex motion, predict a non-uniform angular distribution of the perihelia, without needing to invoke the existence of a massive body in the outer Oort Cloud. Our results are reasonably robust to changes in the parameters of the Galaxy model, Oort Cloud, and stellar encounters.