The Space Page A Step-by-Step Rundown of What Would Happen in a Large Asteroid-Earth Impact  

Jeff Richard
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It's safe to say that when most of us go about our day, we typically don't take the time to look up on occasion and thank whomever is keeping an asteroid from crashing into the Earth and sending us into another ice age. 

Sure, it's normal to fear possible chemical warfare attacks, in which plagues can be released via advanced weaponry. Or nuclear assaults, which will systematically decimate our cities, one by one. Or even the slow-burn process of global warming, in which case we may pray for another ice age to come along.

But an asteroid? What are the odds? 

Well, it's 1 in 63,000, actually. 

That's the number given by scientists when asked if an asteroid, just like the one expected to be within one-million miles of Earth in 2032, could ever divert from its course just enough to crash into us and put Roland Emmerich out of work for good. 

Again, most of us never think about a possible asteroid collision. There are plenty of other things to worry about... but that doesn't mean it's not possible. After all, like any asteroid, Earth is just another rock drifting through space in the grand scheme of things.

So what would happen when these things collide? Click through to find out. 

The Asteroid Will Slowly Begin to Break Up Upon Entering Our Atmosphere

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Photo:  NASA

Occasionally, there are some celestial objects that can be seen during the daytime, such as Venus. Every so often, the second planet from the sun reflects enough sunlight to allow us to see it as a "rare pinprick of light" from certain parts of the world.

But if you happen to look up and see anything larger than that shining during the day, then you may want to grab your telescope and say your prayers -- because it could be an asteroid heading straight for us. 

In that case, however, there is a spot of good news: upon entering our atmosphere, the asteroid will begin to break up at about 16,300 ft., lessening the impact somewhat, and sending scattered debris fluttering down through our atmosphere.

But as for the bad news...

It Won't Be Enough to Save Us from a Global Catastrophe

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Photo:  NASA

The bad news is that the impact is still going to be catastrophic. As in, possibly extinction-level-event -type of catastrophic, considering the asteroid is hurling toward us at nearly 30,000 miles per hour. 

To put that in perspective, even if the deadly-space-rock-from-above were merely the size of the average home, it would still have the impact energy of 20 kilotons -- basically, the equivalent of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Any buildings -- and life -- within a half-mile radius would be completely destroyed.

The Resulting Disaster Would Be Equal to 100 Nuclear Bombs

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Photo:  NASA

Basically, a house-sized asteroid is playing it safe... but let's take into account the fact that things could be much, much worse. 

So let's look at films like Deep Impact or Armageddon. True, they're certainly not the most realistic examples of what would happen in the event of an impending asteroid collision, but the stakes were roughly the same in each -- there is a big rock, about a mile in size, heading straight for our planet. 

So what exactly would happen? 

Well, brace yourself for SPOILERS, because chances are, Michael Bay is not sending oil-riggers into space, and we certainly can't count on the asteroid simply breaking up enough to not completely destroy us. 

In that case, the moment of impact is going to be outright devastating. Instead of a simple 20-kiloton bomb going off -- imagine a million of them happening all at once, at a single point of impact on the world. That's roughly ten million times the power of the Hiroshima bomb, stretching outwards for about 1,000 miles.

Impact Debris Will Block Sunlight for a Year; Most of Earth's Flora and Fauna Will Perish

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Photo:  NASA

At the moment of impact, not only will an enormous, mile-wide crater be left in the Earth, but all the rock and debris from our planet (as well as from the asteroid itself) will be kicked skyward into our atmosphere, to be gradually showered down across the space of the entire planet. 

The bigger problem, is that "gradually" is relative. This means that while much of the debris will fall back to Earth, there will still be dangerously large amounts floating throughout our atmosphere, which will block out all sunlight for at least a year.

As a result, much of Earth's plant and wildlife will die, as the amount of crops that could grow will ostensibly be reduced to zero.