Comet collision 'the source of ancient myths'

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The Independent Online
A MASSIVE comet crashed into the Earth only a few thousand years ago, raining fireballs in its wake and giving rise to many of the myths of early civilisations, scientists said yesterday.

Ancient writings, including prophecies from the Book of Revelation in the Bible, appear to describe cataclysmic events involving objects falling from the sky and researchers have uncovered scientific evidence that something catastrophic occurred more than 4,000 years ago which caused a drastic change in the climate.

Studies of the tree-rings in Irish Oaks at Queen's University, Belfast, have revealed that around 2,354-2,345 BC there was a sudden downturn in the climate. In Northern Syria, archaeologists have discovered evidence of a catastrophic environmental event at about the same time.

Their analysis reveals evidence not only of widespread destruction, but the disintegration of mud-brick buildings by what was described as a "blast from the sky". There was a simultaneous collapse of Bronze Age civilisations.

Bill Napier, an astronomer at Armagh Observatory, and Victor Clube, from Oxford and Armagh Universities, have been investigating the evidence that a major comet landed in the third millennium BC.

Writing in Frontiers, the bi-annual magazine of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, Mr Napier suggests that Comet Encke, first observed in 1786, might be a remnant of the object along with its associated stream of meteors, called the Taurids.

This giant mother-comet is thought to have been actively disintegrating as recently as 5,000 years ago. At this time, and for some millennia afterwards, the night sky would have been lit up by a bright zodiacal light caused by dust particles, cometary fragments, and firework displays of meteor storms.

One of the most puzzling and widespread features of early societies is their preoccupation with the sky," he said.

"People have assumed that this was driven by the need for a calendar for both agricultural and ritual purposes. However, this explanation does not account for the doom-laden nature of much cosmic iconography and early sky-centred cosmic religions associated with these societies."

The Book of Revelation describes a huge burning mountain falling from the sky dropping hail and fire on the earth while the sun and moon are darkened.

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by a rain of fire from heaven, and fireballs featured heavily in Babylonian astrology and the Persian prophet Zoroaster (c.500 BC) predicted the world ending with Satan making a comet strike the Earth and causing a "huge conflagration".

Comets are giant dirty snowballs which orbit the Sun, made of ice and dust. Unlike asteroids, which are rocky, there is no known upper limit to their size, and they can measure several hundred kilometres across. Every 100,000 years or so one of these rare, giant objects enters an orbit that crosses the path of the Earth.