The world of science fiction has provided us with a plethora of potential apocalypses to choose from, but none are as horrifying as the instant destruction that could be brought on by deadly asteroids. Asteroids hitting earth are a real threat, one that experts have been trying to warn us about for years. However unlikely a collision is, a large asteroid would likely wipe out life as we know.
A large asteroid crashing into the planet would make a nuclear blast look like a cool autumn breeze by comparison, but scientists are working on ways to spot potentially hazardous asteroids and prevent a devastating impact. Keeping tabs on how many asteroids have hit earth and creating an early warning system regarding potential asteroid impacts will be crucial if we want to survive an asteroid-induced extinction event. The more we know about these flying space rocks, the more likely it is we will discover what is needed to stop them.
What Exactly Is An Asteroid?
You may have heard a lot of different words assigned to rocks that fall from the sky: asteroids, meteors, meteorites, comets, etc. So what's the difference, or is there even a difference?
The answer is yes, there is a significant difference between an asteroid, a comet, and a meteor. An asteroid is basically a big chunk of space rock that is floating around the sun. Comets are similar to asteroids, but they are covered in ice that can become vapor if they are exposed to too much sunlight. Comets also tend to have a cloud of gases that can create an atmosphere-like layer around the rocky body. A meteor is a smaller piece of an asteroid that has somehow become dislodged and found itself in our atmosphere. Most meteors burn up before they can hit the ground, but the ones that make it to earth's surface are called meteorites.
As Many As 84,000 Meteorites Hit The Earth Every Year
While the odds of a meteor hitting you are ridiculously small, that does not mean that the planet isn't being constantly bombarded by tiny space rocks. Luckily for us, most meteors are incredibly small and won't survive the journey through our thick atmosphere. While it is difficult to accurately measure the number of meteorite strikes we have in a year, scientists estimate that the number is between 18,000 to 84,000. This number only includes meteorites that are over 10 grams in weight, so it's possible that many more are being uncounted.
A Relatively Small Asteroid Strike Could Have Worldwide Consequences
There is always the possibility that a killer asteroid could destroy civilization as we know it, but exactly how big does that asteroid have to be before we all have to say goodbye? According to NASA, not that big. Any asteroids over a mile wide could be enough to create global chaos and wipe out a significant amount of people. To put that in perspective, one of the largest asteroids in our solar system is 583 miles long. Luckily that one is trapped in the asteroid belt, but there are plenty more asteroids floating around our planet that might decide to come visit us.
A Meteorite Struck Russia And Injured A Thousand People
Most meteors are small enough that they burn up safely in the atmosphere, but that wasn't the case in February of 2015. An estimated 1,000 people, including 200 children, were injured when a massive meteorite made landfall in Russia. The incident set a record for the most people ever injured by a meteorite and cost $33 million in damages. Russian scientists estimated that the meteorite was about the size of a car and was traveling at tens of kilometers per second. The shockwave of the impact was powerful enough to blow the windows out of buildings, but luckily the meteor didn't actually hit anyone.