Will an Asteroid Impact Hit Earth?
Asteroid impacts with Earth are far more common than people realize. In fact, some sources report more than 80,000 meteorites larger than 10 grams come falling to Earth each year. Although meteorites are generally small, the fact that so many of them still meet the Earth’s surface, helps solidify the threat of a killer asteroid impact as a real possibility. Asteroids are much larger than meteoroids (which become meteorites only after entering the Earth’s atmosphere). Most of a meteorite is vaporized before striking Earth’s surface, rending them generally non-threatening. However, asteroids are far scarier and much larger. In fact, asteroids are at minimum 6 meters (20 ft), measured at its widest point. In fact, this is the size of the smallest asteroid we currently are aware of and is known as 1991 BA. The largest asteroid recorded, called Ceres, is 590 miles wide (which is 950 km). Ceres was recently categorized as a dwarf planet.
Some asteroids maintain a steady orbit around the sun, a pathway free of crossing Earth, such as Ceres. These asteroids can exist peacefully in the solar system without causing any collision threats. While other asteroids, some very large in size, have trajectories which pose tremendous risks to Earth. These asteroid impacts would have a tremendous, ominous effect on the planet and has been depicted in several popular movies (Armageddon, Asteroid, Deep Impact, Post Impact, Without Warning, Meteor, When Worlds Collide, and more).
Asteroids generally have their place in the solar system, a place called the asteroid belt. The home of the asteroids is located between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid belt is more than two times as far away from the Earth as the Earth is from the Sun. Even so, some asteroids possess a projected orbit so close to Earth they are referred to as near-Earth objects and although these are usually millions of miles away, some have absolutely struck Earth (and other planets) before, and absolutely do cause catastrophic damage and destruction.
What Would be the Effects of an Asteroid Impact?
Experts agree, impact effects are based upon size and collision site (the location the asteroid comes crashing to Earth). Smaller asteroids may cause huge tidal waves, tsunamis, and all types of destruction; however, it is the larger asteroids that are capable of causing extinction-level events. In fact, it is almost unanimously agreed that at least one dinosaur extinction event was caused by a large asteroid impact with Earth, roughly 65 million years ago. This crater location is in Yucatan, Mexico.
An asteroid impact would be no pretty sight. As the asteroid breaks through the Earth’s atmosphere, it will leave a gigantic hole behind it which the surrounding air will struggle to immediately refill. The air will be thrusting behind the asteroid, which will impact with either land or sea. A crater will be formed no matter where the impact resides, and will just be slightly larger on land. The impact will be tremendous regardless and it has been reported that a smaller asteroid of only 1 km in diameter at its widest point, would be able to cause an explosion reaching more than 9 on the Richter scale (used to measure the magnitude of an earthquake). A much larger, 10 km, asteroid would cause an initial explosion greater than 12 on the Richter scale. Should the impact zone be within the ocean, water will easily be pushed out of the way just like the air before it. This water is displaced so high that it’s return fall to Earth compounds with the asteroid impact zone, causing a series of steam explosions to follow. Generally the diameter of the crater will be 10-20 times the size (in km) of the diameter of the asteroid. So an asteroid which is 5 km in size at its widest point would form a crater with a diameter between 50 and 100 km. That is a huge, concerning impact zone considering asteroids are absolutely projected to impact Earth in the near future.
An asteroid impact of any respectable size (1 km or bigger in width at its widest point) can also be expected to cause a number of earthquakes. The initial shock may be as powerful as a 13 on the Richter scale of magnitude. Aftershocks will continue for some duration longer.
The Tsunami Following an Asteroid Impact
Experts and studies alike suggest that the impact zone is much more likely to be within a body of water, as more than seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Still, unfortunately the ocean would need to be far greater in size and volume in order to absorb the impact of the threatening asteroids Earth occasionally faces. The asteroid will create a large crater, even on the surface of the ocean. Much of the water pushed out of the way forms a gigantic tidal wave (also known as a tsunami). The height of the tsunami wave depends upon the distance from the impact zone by which it is measured, as well as the energy produced from the asteroid impact. The further away from the impact zone, the less threatening and smaller the wave. One commonly used formula for determining the tidal wave is:
(Energy from impact in megatons).495 X (Distance from impact zone in kilometers)-.717 X 10.9 = Height of tidal wave in meters
The formula does not do the terror of a tsunami justice. The height of a larger, 10 km, asteroid impact tsunami at its highest point can be 1.3 km (that’s almost a mile high wave); whereas 1 km asteroids can still produce tsunami waves as high as 42 m (a quarter of a mile high). Unfortunately, quarter mile high waves are not easily survivable. Even the smaller asteroids will produce waves so big they will still be 20 feet or higher 5000 miles away from the impact zone and global flooding. If the first, super powerful, tsunami wave is not enough to demolish everything around it for thousands of miles, the several fallouts of steam from the water that shot straight up after impact, will cause several follow up waves as they come crashing to the ground. The effects of moving so much water so unnaturally causes a reaction from nature to correct the imbalance. Nature’s answer is a subsequent, complicated chain of tsunamis in a number of close, related regions and even likely worldwide. People generally only think about the first wave because of its severe, threatening size, however, the replicating waves and flooding is equally adversarial to survival.
Weather and Temperature Effects from an Asteroid Impact
One of the biggest associations with an asteroid impact extinction-level event, is a rain of fire and soot. This theory is not far off, as there will be a global soot problem, as well as a floating, snow-like fiery material floating down from the sky all around the world. This fiery “rainfall” will cause fires all over. Any plant life that remains after the disaster would suffer the environmental impact the soot would cause. Any human beings or many species of the animal kingdom will suffer cancerous inhalation and ingestion (though depending upon the size of the asteroid, at some point, it becomes unsurvivable without intense preparation). The fiery rain may only last a short time, however, longer term rainfall effects will occur. An acidic rain will ensue for months, perhaps even years after an asteroid impact. This acid rain consists of nitrous and nitric acids and will thoroughly pollute the air and environment. Expected destruction includes all foliage (plant life). All water life in the upper portions of the ocean (as in closer to the surface) will perish from the acidic ocean water. The acid rain will be so strong it will even weather rock at an extremely fast pace. Additionally, the ozone layer will suffer and cause increased ultraviolet light from the sun to hit the Earth and disrupt the growth of plant life and small organisms.
It is also a popular belief that the soot thrown up from the asteroid impact will cover the atmosphere and block out the sunlight. This is true and would be so thick that it would be impossible to see anything even a foot in front of oneself. The intense blockage causes a severe temperature drop which is often referred to as an impact winter. This temperature reduction is a global phenomenon and completely stops photosynthesis. Even if plants survive the impact explosion, tsunami, tidal flooding, acid rain, and excess ultraviolet light exposure…the odds of the plant life surviving a winter without photosynthesis are zero to none. No plant life means more carbon dioxide. The massive cataclysm event will cause a toxic release of terrible killers such as Beryllium, Mercury, Thallium, granules of dust, dirt and metals, soot particles (carbon, oils, woods other chemicals and acids) in the air. This harmful concoction will float thoroughly throughout the Earth’s air and infiltrate every ecosystem and every body of water. Anything that survives will suffer serious respiratory complications (and eventually respiratory failure – rather quickly in fact), without the proper purification techniques to clean the air. Even the plankton will die.
If the impact zone is in a large enough body of water (like an ocean for example) the water vapor which is expelled into the air will remain in the atmosphere. The atmospheric water vapor combining with the increased carbon dioxide causes an intense global warm-up following the impact winter. This is due to a greenhouse gas effect, an intensified solar radiation which causes the Earth to heat more quickly for a number of years to follow and the heat may get quite unbearable.
Is an Asteroid Impact a Realistic Threat to Earth?
Some studies suggest that an Asteroid colliding with Earth and causing an extinction level potential event, will happen once out of every 50,000 years (though other studies claim it is much longer, even once every billion years).Truthfully, it is hard to determine how common an extinction-level asteroid impact is with the little data studies currently provide. It is simply wisest to be prepared, as technically Earth is due for another huge impact. In fact, lately the rumors have some pretty substantial data which theorize a cover up, NASA’s awareness and the existence of a threatening object on a crash course with Earth in 2032. Supposedly, this asteroid impact will be a force more than 50 times the strength of the most powerful nuclear bomb known to man. Not only is this asteroid real, but it could cause mass extinctions of a number of specifies (including human beings).
The first step was to be aware of potential threats. Astronomers all over the world were very interested in this in the 90s and received funding to analyze nearby objects in space and create a list, a full catalog of asteroids and other objects having orbits near, or potentially interacting with Earth. Interaction can be defined as a near-miss object (which we still care about since it can have an impact still on the Earth) or an object which is a suspected potential impact. This program was called Spaceguard and reportedly cost less to fund than an epic Hollywood blockbuster about asteroid impacts with Earth. This program was international and took roughly a decade to collect a full list of all nearby objects. Nearby Earth objects are frequently referred to as NEOs. NASA took this step one further in the late 90s, later choosing to work with JPL, to identify which objects greater than 1 km in diameter, are the greatest threats and closest nearby objects (potentially impactful). This program is called the Near-Earth Object Search program (NEOS). NEOS uses a number of high-powered, highly technically advanced telescopes which have extremely wide search fields and ranges. It is probable by now, that NASA has identified all major threats through this program.
There has been a potential threat identified in 2032, therefore, it is wise to be prepared. This is a potential extinction-level asteroid impact which may end humanity altogether.
How to Survive an Asteroid Colliding with Earth
Although there are government and international entities and programs which are watching for potential threats and impacts, the control that they have over preventing an impact is insufficient to provide Earth complete safety. There are programs in place to help intercept or otherwise deflect potentially threatening asteroids, however, the asteroids that are trajectory-controllable are very small and the larger asteroids, like the one potentially crashing into us in 2032, are not deflectable or destroyable and cannot be simply “nudged” out of the way. Additionally, this interception or nudge would need to take place many years before the potential impact, a technology that has simply not yet been mastered (our range is still much shorter than necessary, as well as likely the strength of the explosion not nearly being adequate). This means that survival has to be taken into the hands of the individual.
Historically speaking, we are over do for an end times-status asteroid. There is still a chance though, if you prepare the proper way. First, you must accept that the only way to survive this type of impact, is to build an underground shelter (click here to check out a basic guide on how to get started on this), and ensuring that the fallout shelter is setup to endure at least a decade of underground living. Additionally, this facility will need to be flood-proof, and still capable of siphoning air, even through the thick soot that will ensue for so long in the asteroid aftermath. Air still needs to be supplied during the tsunami and flooding stage. Another tough task considering the damage is likely to wipe out any above-ground fixtures, including any piping that has exited the top of the facility. If you are building your shelter to survive under water for weeks or months, then it needs to have its own way of creating oxygen. One of the best ways to accomplish this and sustain long-term underground living, is to dedicate an entire room sized 50 percent of the entire facility square footage, to growing a full garden. The more this room resembles a jungle the better the facility’s air supply. Keeping a garden underground even before an emergency has occurred is very wise, as it can often be very hard to get this sort of thing going in an emergency, quick enough to produce the oxygen necessary to survive. Creating an underground garden that is double the size of the garden itself, and building the space to double as a flood-proof, self-sustaining, underground fallout shelter, is the safest preparation plan to surviving an asteroid impact with Earth, and the aftermath that comes with it. Additionally, a way to expel spent air, methane and waste will be more difficult and require more creativity.
There are many other threats to survive beyond the natural woes of an asteroid’s impact with Earth. The threats of surviving underground for long durations will be equally harsh. Proper nutrition, knowledge of bacteria and infection, mental stability, water filtration, air purification and supply, and the structural integrity of the shelter walls itself are all very important variables to maintain control over. Once the fallout plan has been activated and the asteroid has struck, the occupants are locked inside for more than a decade to ensure a safe reemergence into the environment. Any one problem while inside can lead to death, and the threats are diverse, including: water supply compromised, air purification failure, food supply issues, flooding or leaking, mold, and more.
Assuming that the impact was in the water rather than on land, not only does the shelter need to be outfitted to survive flooding and a lack of obtainable air to clean, and a more complicated way of expelling unwanted waste, but it also needs to be able to survive both: the initial impact winter’s cooling effects and the intense heat produced by the global warming thereafter. In other words: installing fans simply will not cut it and a thorough air conditioning system needs to be fully operable. Surviving the aftermath of an asteroid impact takes creativity, persistence, perseverance, knowledge and planning years, perhaps even decades in advance. Best to get started today.
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