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Dynamical studies of the asteroid belt reveal it to be an inadequate source of terrestrial impactors of more than a few kilometers in diameter. A more promising source for large impactors is an unstable reservoir of comets orbiting between Jupiter and Neptune. Comets 100–300 km across leak from this reservoir into potentially hazardous orbits on relatively short time scales. With a mass typically 103–104 times that of a Chicxulub-sized impactor, the fragmentation of a giant comet yields a highly enhanced impact hazard at all scales, with a prodigious dust influx into the stratosphere over the duration of its breakup, which could be anywhere from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand years. Repeated fireball storms of a few hours' duration, occurring while the comet is fragmenting, may destroy stratospheric ozone and enhance incident ultraviolet light. These storms, as much as large impacts, may be major contributors to biological trauma. Thus, the debris from such comets has the potential to create mass extinctions by way of prolonged stress. Large impact craters are expected to occur in episodes rather than at random, and this is seen in the record of well-dated impact craters of the past 500 m.y. There is a strong correlation between these bombardment episodes and mass extinctions of marine genera.

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