From my new blog, When Worlds Collide, where this appears at:
http://collidecolumn.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/when-worlds-collide-welcome-to-my-new-column/

When Worlds Collide, by Nalaka Gunawardene

Published in Ceylon Today newspaper, Sunday 5 February 2012

With or without our knowledge, worlds are colliding all around us, all the time. It happens in both physical and metaphorical realms.

The night sky might appear calm and serene to us, but the universe is a violent and constantly changing place. Astrophysicists are still unravelling the forces at work – they describe our Solar System as an ‘oasis of calm’ in comparison.

That’s relative, of course. Everything is always in motion – the Sun (our local star), planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, comets are all moving in their orbits, sometimes crossing paths of others. Luckily, space is big enough and empty enough to get by without crashing into each other.

Once in a while, however, near-misses or actual collisions are inevitable. Millions on Earth watched through telescopes a memorable recent event when Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter in July 1994.

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