Sie sind auf Seite 1von 54


NSP Outline
Topic: Investigate the effects of meteorites and asteroids bombardments on our environment. What significant
changes on earth might occur with these bombardments?

Definition or differentiate
Killer asteroids and meteorites
Significant changes

Asteroids are airless rocky bodies that orbit our sun, but asteroids are to small to be called planets, still scientist call
asteroids as Minor Planets.
What are asteroids made up of? Asteroids are made up of rock and iron.
What do Asteroids look alike? Most asteroids look similar to the moon with a white-grayish tone and deep craters.
Also, asteroids come in various shapes and sizes.
Type of Asteroid:

S-type (silicaceous): bright, composition is metallic iron mixed with iron and magnesium-silicates. These
asteroids dominate the inner asteroids dominate the inner asteroid belt. *PIC*
C-type (carbonaceous): these are considered one of the most common types of asteroids. Very dark,
composition is considered to be similar to the sun. mostly inhabit the main belts outer-regions *PIC*
M-type (metallic): bright, composition is dominated by metallic iron. These inhabit the main belts middle
region. *PIC*

What type of path do asteroids follow or take on? Asteroid orbitalpaths are influenced by the gravitational pull of
planets, which cause their paths to change. Therefore, asteroids tend to just go with the flow. *PIC*
Where do asteroids hang out? Many asteroids orbit the sun in circular orbits in the asteroid belt between mars and
How do asteroids impact us? For dangerous impaction of asteroid to Earth, consists of two things, the size of an
asteroid with intense energy and a massive size, it can destroy everything on Earth and maybe even Earth itself.
Why do scientists study asteroids? Scientists are trying to use the minerals from, asteroids to help the people of
earth. Also using the asteroids, to figure the mystery of the solar system *pic*
Comets are cosmic snowballs
that orbits the sun. Comets are called,"dirty snowballs," because of its composition, which is mostly ice and dust.
What are Comets made up of? Comets are made up of frozen gases, rock, and dust
What do Comets look like? Most comets look like snowballs with one or more tail
What Type of Orbit do Comets Follow? The orbit of a comet follows and elliptical path around the Sun. This means
there is a point for each comet where it is closest to the Sun and farthest from the Sun. These two points are called:
Perihelion(closest to the Sun), and Aphelion(farthest from the Sun).
What kind of impact can Comets have on Earth? Comets that hit the Earth, almost have the same effect like a
asteroid hitting Earth.It is very destructive. A comet hitting Earth in our lifetime is rare.

Why do scientists study Comets? Scientists have a theory that states that comets could have been one of the
factors that killed the dinosaurs
Comets offer clues to the beginning of the planets.
Scientists predict that comets have something to do with the water in the Earth.
Meteors are when Meteoroids fall through a planets atmosphere.Also meteors leave a bright fiery trail when its
moving towards Earth; meteors are often called, "shooting stars."
What are Meteors made up of? Little chunk of rock
What do Meteors look like? A little or a massive piece of rock surrounded with fire and leaves a bright trail.
How do Meteors impact us? Meteor impact, on Earth has a great impact, but it depends if the meteor survives until
it hits the Earth. Also, a meteor is not enough to destroy the whole Earth. If the meteor survives it can do some very
destructive damage and anything miles around it. If the meteor burns up in the atmosphere or breaks into little
pieces, it wouldn't do any harm to Earth or anything on it.
Why do scientists study meteors? They study it to learn more about the history of the Solar System. They have
learned that meteors
are very ancient rocks that come from many different bodies in the solar system.

METEOROIDS a piece of stony or metallic debris which travels in outer space. Meteoroids travel around the sun in
avariety of orbits and at various speeds. Most meteoroids are about the size of a pebble.
METEORITES When meteor pieces survive the journey to a planet and hits the planets surface it is called
Mars Meteorite. Meteorite
Differences between an asteroid, a comet, a meteor, a meteorite, and a meteoroid: Asteroids, Meteors, Meteorites,
and Meteoroids do not have visible comas. (Comets Do)
Comets are mainly made up of Ice and Dust. (Asteroids are not)
Asteroids and Comets can destroy almost everything on the Earth.(Meteors, Meteorites, Meteoroids do not)
Meteorites are survived parts of the Meteors
Asteroids are inactive bodies of rock.(Comets are active)
Asteroids are mainly made of Carbon, Metallic Iron, and Magnesium Silicates.(Comets are not)

Earth's Bombardment by Asteroids 3.9 Billion Years Ago May Have Enhanced Early Life, Says CU Study
Published: May 20, 2009
The bombardment of Earth nearly 4 billion years ago by asteroids as large as Kansas would not have had the
firepower to extinguish potential early life on the planet and may even have given it a boost, says a new University
of Colorado at Boulder study.
Impact evidence from lunar samples, meteorites and the pockmarked surfaces of the inner planets paints a picture
of a violent environment in the solar system during the Hadean Eon 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, particularly through
a cataclysmic event known as the Late Heavy Bombardment about 3.9 million years ago. Although many believe
the bombardment would have sterilized Earth, the new study shows it would have melted only a fraction of Earth's
crust, and that microbes could well have survived in subsurface habitats, insulated from the destruction.
"These new results push back the possible beginnings of life on Earth to well before the bombardment period 3.9
billion years ago," said CU-Boulder Research Associate Oleg Abramov. "It opens up the possibility that life emerged
as far back as 4.4 billion years ago, about the time the first oceans are thought to have formed."
A paper on the subject by Abramov and CU-Boulder geological sciences Professor Stephen Mojzsis appears in the
May 21 issue of Nature.
Because physical evidence of Earth's early bombardment has been erased by weathering and plate tectonics over
the eons, the researchers used data from Apollo moon rocks, impact records from the moon, Mars and Mercury, and
previous theoretical studies to build three-dimensional computer models that replicate the bombardment. Abramov
and Mojzsis plugged in asteroid size, frequency and distribution estimates into their simulations to chart the
damage to the Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment, which is thought to have lasted for 20 million to 200
million years.
The 3-D models allowed Abramov and Mojzsis to monitor temperatures beneath individual craters to assess heating
and cooling of the crust following large impacts in order to evaluate habitability, said Abramov. The study indicated
that less than 25 percent of Earth's crust would have melted during such a bombardment.
The CU-Boulder researchers even cranked up the intensity of the asteroid barrage in their simulations by 10-fold -an event that could have vaporized Earth's oceans. "Even under the most extreme conditions we imposed, Earth
would not have been completely sterilized by the bombardment," said Abramov.
Instead, hydrothermal vents may have provided sanctuaries for extreme, heat-loving microbes known as
"hyperthermophilic bacteria" following bombardments, said Mojzsis. Even if life had not emerged by 3.9 billion
years ago, such underground havens could still have provided a "crucible" for life's origin on Earth, Mojzsis said.
The researchers concluded subterranean microbes living at temperatures ranging from 175 degrees to 230 degrees
Fahrenheit would have flourished during the Late Heavy Bombardment. The models indicate that underground
habitats for such microbes increased in volume and duration as a result of the massive impacts. Some extreme
microbial species on Earth today -- including so-called "unboilable bugs" discovered in hydrothermal vents in
Yellowstone National Park -- thrive at 250 F.

Geologic evidence suggests that life on Earth was present at least 3.83 billion years ago, said Mojzsis. "So it is not
unreasonable to suggest there was life on Earth before 3.9 billion years ago. We know from the geochemical record
that our planet was eminently habitable by that time, and this new study sews up a major problem in origins of life
studies by sweeping away the necessity for multiple origins of life on Earth."
Most planetary scientists believe a rogue planet as large as Mars smacked Earth with a glancing blow 4.5 billion
years ago, vaporizing itself and part of Earth. The collision would have created an immense vapor cloud from which
moonlets, and later our moon, coalesced, Mojzsis said. "That event, which preceded the Late Heavy Bombardment
by at least 500 million years, would have effectively hit Earth's re-set button," he said.
"But our results strongly suggest that no events since the moon formation were capable of destroying Earth's crust
and wiping out any biosphere that was present," Mojzsis said. "Instead of chopping down the tree of life, our view is
that the bombardment pruned it."
The results also support the potential for microbial life on other planets like Mars and perhaps even rocky, Earth-like
planets in other solar systems that may have been resurfaced by impacts, said Abramov.
"Exactly when life originated on Earth is a hotly debated topic," says NASA's Astrobiology Discipline Scientist
Michael H. New, manager of the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program. "These findings are significant
because they indicate life could have begun well before the Late Heavy Bombardment, during the so-called Hadean
Eon of Earth's history 3.8 billion to 4.5 billion years ago."
The research by Abramov and Mojzsis is sponsored by NASA Astrobiology Program's Exobiology and Evolutionary
Biology Department and the NASA Postdoctoral Program. The Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program
supports research into the origin, evolution and distribution of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.
Mojzsis is a member of the new NASA Lunar Science Institute through the Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution.

Study: 70 killer asteroids struck Earth 1.8 to 3.8 billion years ago
By Deborah Byrd in EARTH | April 26, 2012
Rocks in Australia contain sand-sized circles and particles, thought to be formerly molten droplets ejected into
space when asteroids struck Earth.

A study of ancient rocks in Australia combined with computer modeling of the early solar system has led
researchers to estimate that approximately 70 killer asteroids of the same size that caused the extinction of the
dinosaurs or larger struck Earth 1.8 to 3.8 billion years ago. During the same period, approximately four similarlysized objects hit the moon. Scientists with NASAs Lunar Science Institute and international
scientists publishedthese results yesterday (April 25, 2012) in the journal Nature.

Part of the evidence for these early impacts on Earth by killer asteroids comes from thin rock layers in Australia. The
rocks contain debris of nearly spherical, sand-sized droplets called spherules. The scientists say these rocks consist
of formerly molten droplets ejected into space within the huge plumes created by mega-impacts on Earth.

Researchers estimate that approximately 70 asteroids of the same size that killed the dinosaurs - or larger impacted Earth 1.8 to 3.8 billion years ago. Image Credit: NASA Lunar Science Institute
The demise of the dinosaurs occurred more recently than the asteroids suggested by this study, only about 65
million years ago in contrast to 1.8 to 3.8 billion years ago. Scientists believe that the killer asteroid that impacted
Earth 65 million years ago would have been almost 6 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter.
This science team used computer modeling to depict a time in the early solar system, billions of years ago. They
call on the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune to help send killer asteroids hurtling to Earth. They say
their study supports the idea that the giant planets formed in different orbits from where we see them today nearly
4.5 billion years ago. The theory is that the giant worlds migrated to their current orbits about 4 billion years ago
from the interplay of gravitational forces in the young solar system. According to the theory, this event triggered a
solar system-wide bombardment of comets and asteroids called the Late Heavy Bombardment by scientists. In
yesterdays Nature paper, the team describe a model they created with computers, showing what the asteroid belt
might have looked like at that early time. They then tracked what would have happened when the orbits of the
giant planets changed.
They discovered the innermost portion of the asteroid belt became destabilized and could have delivered numerous
big impacts to Earth and the moon over long time periods.

The millimeter-scale circles and irregular gray particles in this sample are sand-sized, about a millimeter (0.039
inch) in scale. Scientists are saying these circles and particles are formerly molten droplets ejected into space when
an asteroid hit the Earth 2.63 billion years ago. Image Credit: Bruce Simonson, Oberlin College and Conservatory.
Further evidence for these early impacts on Earth by killer asteroids comes from thin rock layers in Australia. The
rocks contain debris of nearly spherical, sand-sized droplets called spherules. These circles and particles are
formerly molten droplets ejected into space when an asteroid hit the Earth 2.63 billion years ago, according to this
Read more from NASAs Lunar Science Institute
Bottom line: Scientists studying ancient rocks in Australia and using a computer model to depict the early solar
system now say that approximately 70 killer asteroids 6 miles (10 kilometers) or larger impacted Earth 1.8 to 3.8
billion years ago, and approximately four similarly-sized objects hit the moon around that time. Scientists with
NASAs Lunar Science Institute and international scientists published these results April 25, 2012 in the
journal Nature..
Andrea Milani calculates odds of killer asteroids
Asteroid close miss on June 27, 2011
Asteroid: a large rocky body in space, in orbit around the Sun.
Meteoroid: much smaller rocks or particles in orbit around the Sun.
Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earths atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor, which is often called a shooting star.

Meteorite: If a small asteroid or large meteoroid survives its fiery passage through the Earths atmosphere and lands on Earths
surface, it is then called a meteorite.
Another related term is bolide, which is a very bright meteor that often explodes in the atmosphere. This can also be called a

Asteroids are found mainly in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Sometimes their orbits get perturbed or altered and some
asteroids end up coming closer to the Sun, and therefore closer to Earth. In addition to the asteroid belt, however, there have been
recent discussions among astronomers about the potential existence of large number asteroids in the Kuiper Belt and Oort
Cloud. You can read a paper about this concept here, and a good article discussing the topichere.

The asteroid Vesta as seen by the Dawn spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA

Asteroids are sometimes referred to as minor planets or planetoids, but in general, they are rocky bodies that do not have an
atmosphere. However, a few have their own moons. Our Solar System contains millions of asteroids, many of which are thought to
be the shattered remnants of planetesimals bodies within the young Suns solar nebula that never grew large enough to become
The size of what classifies as an asteroid is not extremely well defined, as an asteroid can range from a few meters wide like a
boulder to objects that are hundreds of kilometers in diameter. The largest asteroid is asteroid Ceres at about 952 km (592 miles)
in diameter, and Ceres is so large that it is also categorized as a dwarf planet.
Most asteroids are made of rock, but as we explore and learn more about them we know that some are composed of metal, mostly
nickel and iron. According to NASA, a small portion of the asteroid population may be burned-out comets whose ices have
evaporated away and been blown off into space. Recently, astronomers have discovered some asteroids that mimic comets in that
gas and dust are emanating from them, and as we mentioned earlier, there appears to be a large number of bodies with asteroidlike compositions but comet-like orbits.
How Often Do Asteroids Hit Earth?

Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona. Image credit: NASA.

While we know that some asteroids pass very close to Earths orbit around the Sun, weve been lucky in the history of humanity that
we havent had a large asteroid hit Earth in the past several thousand years. It wasnt until satellite imagery of Earth became widely
available that scientists were able to see evidence of past asteroid impacts.
One of the more famous impact craters on Earth is Meteor Crater in Arizona in the US, which was made by an impact about 50,000
years ago. But there are about 175 known impact around the world a few are quite large, like Vredefort Crater in South Africa
which has an estimated radius of 190 kilometers (118 miles), making it the worlds largest known impact structure on Earth. Another
notable impact site is off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and is believed to be a record of the event that led to the
extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. You can see images of some of the most impressive Earth impact cratershere.
These days, asteroid impacts are less of a threat. NASA estimates that about once a year an automobile-sized asteroid enters
Earths atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball and disintegrates before ever reaching the surface. Studies of Earths history
indicate that about once every 5,000 years or so on average an object the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant
damage. Once every few million years on average an object large enough to cause regional or global disaster impacts Earth. You
can find more information about the frequency of impacts in this article from NASA.
Meteors, Meteoroids and Bolides

A bright meteor from September 21, 1994. Credit: John Chumack.

Space debris smaller than an asteroid are called meteoroids. A meteoroid is a piece of interplanetary matter that is smaller than an
asteroid and frequently are only millimeters in size. Most meteoroids that enter the Earths atmosphere are so small that they
vaporize completely and never reach the planets surface. When they burn up during their descent, they create a beautiful trail of
light known as a meteor, sometimes called a shooting star.
Mostly these are harmless, but larger meteors that explode in the atmosphere sometimes called bolides can create
shockwaves, which can cause problems. In February 2013 a meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia shattered windows
with its air blast. This meteoroid or bolide was estimated to be 18 meters (59 feet) in diameter. In 1908, a rocky meteoroid less than
100 meters in diameter is believed to have entered the atmosphere over the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908 and the resulting
shockwave knocked down trees for hundreds of square kilometers
How often is Earth hit by meteroids?

Chelyabinsk fireball recorded by a dashcam from Kamensk-Uralsky north of Chelyabinsk where it was still dawn.
Because of the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013, astronomers have acquired more information about the frequency of larger meteors
that hit Earth, and there is now a growing consensus that the Earth gets hit by bigger space rocks more often than we previously
thought. You can read more about that concept here.
This video from the B612 Foundation shows a visualization of the location of 26 space rocks that hit Earth between 2000
and 2013, each releasing energy equivalent to some of our most powerful nuclear weapons. The B612 foundation says that
a Hiroshima-scale asteroid explosion happens in our atmosphere on average once a year, but many are not detected
because they explode high in the atmosphere, or because most of the Earths surface is water and even a large percentage
of land is fairly uninhabited by humans.
Estimates vary of how much cosmic dust and meteors enter Earths atmosphere each day, but range anywhere from 5 to
300 metric tons. Satellite observations suggest that 100-300 metric tons of cosmic dust enter the atmosphere each day.
This figure comes from the rate of accumulation in polar ice cores and deep-sea sediments of rare elements linked to
cosmic dust, such as iridium and osmium.
But other measurements which includes meteor radar observations, laser observations and measurements by high
altitude aircraft indicate that the input could be as low as 5 metric ton per day. Read more about this here.
For a documented list of bolide events, you can check out this page from JPL.

A stunning slice of the Glorieta pallasite meteorite cut thin enough to allow light to shine through its many olivine crystals. Credit:
Mike Miller
If any part of a meteoroid survives the fall through the atmosphere and lands on Earth, it is called a meteorite. Although the vast
majority of meteorites are very small, their size can range from about a fraction of a gram (the size of a pebble) to 100 kilograms
(220 lbs) or more (the size of a huge, life-destroying boulder). Meteorites smaller than 2mm are classified as micrometeorites.
Meteorites have traditionally been divided into three broad categories, depending on their structure, chemical and isotopic
composition and mineralogy. Stony meteorites are rocks, mainly composed of silicate minerals; iron meteorites that are largely
composed of metallic iron-nickel; and, stony-iron meteorites that contain large amounts of both metallic and rocky material.
Meteorites have also been found on the Moon and Mars and conversely, scientists have traced the origination of the meteorites
found here on Earth to four other bodies: the Moon, Mars, the asteroid 4 Vesta, and the comet Wild 2. Meteorites are the source of a
great deal of the knowledge that we have have about the composition of other celestial bodies.
How Often Do Meteorites Hit Earth?

On Feb. 28, 2009, Peter Jenniskens (SETI/NASA), finds his first 2008TC3 meteorite after an 18-mile long journey. It was an
incredible feeling, Jenniskens said. The African Nubian Desert meteorite of Oct 7, 2008 was the first asteroid whose impact with
Earth was predicted while still in space approaching Earth. 2008TC3 and Chelyabinsk are part of the released data set. (Credit:
According to the Planetary Science Institute, it is estimated that probably 500 meteorites reach the surface of the Earth each year,
but less than 10 are recovered. This is because most fall into water (oceans, seas or lakes) or land in remote areas of the Earth that
are not accessible, or are just not seen to fall.
You can read more about meteorites that were found from the Chelyabinsk meteor here.
In short, the difference between asteroids and meteors all comes down to a question of location. Asteroids are always found in
space. Once it enters an atmosphere, it becomes a meteor, and then a meteorite after it hits the ground. Each are made of the
same basic materials minerals and rock and each originated in space. The main difference is where they are when they are
being observed.
We have many great articles on the subject of asteroids and meteorites here at Universe Today, such as this general information
article onasteroids, this article and infographic about the difference between comets, asteroids and meteors, and these articles that
deal with Ceresand Vesta. And here are some recent articles about the Chelyabinskmeteor that landed in Russia, as well as a 2
billion-year old Martian meteorite that contains evidence of water on Mars.
There is some good information on a NASA page as well as some great information here on Universe Today and Astronomy Cast

An impact event is a collision between astronomical objects causing measurable effects. Impact events have physical
consequences and have been found to regularly occur in planetary systems, though the most frequent
involveasteroids, comets or meteoroids and have minimal impact. When large objects impact terrestrial planets like the Earth, there
can be significant physical and biospheric consequences, though atmospheres mitigate many surface impacts through atmospheric
entry. Impact craters and structures are dominant landforms on many of the Solar System's solid objects and present the strongest
empirical evidence for their frequency and scale.

Impact events appear to have played a significant role in the evolution of the Solar System since its formation. Major impact events
have significantly shaped Earth's history, have been implicated in the formation of the EarthMoon system, the evolutionary history
of life, the origin of water on Earth and several mass extinctions. Notable impact events include the Chicxulub impact, 66 million
years ago, believed to be the cause of the CretaceousPaleogene extinction event.[1]
Throughout recorded history, hundreds of Earth impacts (and exploding bolides) have been reported, with some occurrences
causing deaths, injuries, property damage, or other significant localised consequences.[2] One of the best-known recorded impacts in
modern times was the Tunguska event, which occurred in Siberia, Russia, in 1908. The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor event is the only
known such incident in modern times to result in a large number of injuries, excluding the 1490 Ch'ing-yang event in China, and the
Chelyabinsk meteor is the largest recorded object to have encountered the Earth since the Tunguska event.
The Comet ShoemakerLevy 9 impact provided the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of Solar System objects,
when the comet broke apart and collided with Jupiter in July 1994. Most of the observed extrasolar impacts are the slow collision of
galaxies; in 2014, one of the first massive terrestrial impacts observed was detected around the star NGC 2547 ID8 by
NASA's Spitzer space telescope and confirmed by ground observations.[3] Impact events have been a plot and background element
in science fiction.

Impacts and the Earth[edit]

Major impact events have significantly shaped Earth's history, having been implicated in the formation of the EarthMoon system,
the evolutionary history of life, theorigin of water on Earth, and several mass extinctions. Impact structures are the result of impact
events on solid objects and, as the dominant landforms on many of the System's solid objects, present the most solid evidence of
prehistoric events. Notable impact events include the Late Heavy Bombardment, which occurred early in history of the EarthMoon
system, and the Chicxulub impact, 66 million years ago, believed to be the cause of the CretaceousPaleogene extinction event.
Frequency and risk[edit]
Main article: Asteroid-impact avoidance

REP. STEWART: ... are we technologically capable of launching something that could intercept [an asteroid]? ... DR

Rep. Chris Stewart (R,UT) and Dr. Michael F. A'Hearn, 10 April 2013, United States Congress[4]

Frequency of small asteroids roughly 1 to 20 meters in diameter impacting Earth's atmosphere.

A bolide undergoing atmospheric entry

Small objects frequently collide with Earth. There is an inverse relationship between the size of the object and the frequency of such
events. The lunar cratering record shows that the frequency of impacts decreases as approximately the cube of the resulting crater's
diameter, which is on average proportional to the diameter of the impactor.[5] Asteroids with a 1 km (0.62 mi) diameter strike Earth
every 500,000 years on average.[6] Large collisions with 5 km (3 mi) objects happen approximately once every twenty million
years.[7] The last known impact of an object of 10 km (6 mi) or more in diameter was at the CretaceousPaleogene extinction
event 66 million years ago.[8]
The energy released by an impactor depends on diameter, density, velocity, and angle. [7] The diameter of most near-Earth asteroids
that have not been studied by radar or infrared can generally only be estimated within about a factor of 2 based on the asteroid
brightness. The density is generally assumed because the diameter and mass are also generally estimates. The minimum impact
velocity on Earth is 11 km/s with asteroid impacts averaging around 17 km/s.[7] The most probable impact angle is 45 degrees.[7]
Stony asteroids with a diameter of 4 meters (13 ft) enter Earth's atmosphere approximately once per year.[7] Asteroids with a
diameter of 7 meters enter the atmosphere about every 5 years with as much kinetic energy as the atomic bomb dropped
on Hiroshima (approximately 16 kilotons of TNT), but the air burst is reduced to just 5 kilotons.[7] These ordinarily explode in
the upper atmosphere and most or all of the solids are vaporized.[9] However, asteroids with a diameter of 20 m (66 ft), and which
strike Earth approximately twice every century, produce more powerful airbursts. The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor was estimated to be
about 20 m in diameter with an airburst of around 500 kilotons, an explosion 30 times the one over Hiroshima. Much larger objects
may impact sedimentary rock and create a crater.
Stony asteroid impacts that generate an airburst[7]
Kinetic energy at





4 m (13 ft)

3 kt

0.75 kt

42.5 km (139,000 ft)


7 m (23 ft)

16 kt

5 kt

36.3 km (119,000 ft)


10 m (33 ft)

47 kt

19 kt

31.9 km (105,000 ft)


15 m (49 ft)

159 kt

82 kt

26.4 km (87,000 ft)


20 m (66 ft)

376 kt

230 kt

22.4 km (73,000 ft)


30 m (98 ft)

1.3 Mt

930 kt

16.5 km (54,000 ft)


50 m (160 ft)

5.9 Mt

5.2 Mt

8.7 km (29,000 ft)


70 m (230 ft)

16 Mt

15.2 Mt

3.6 km (12,000 ft)


85 m (279 ft)

29 Mt

28 Mt

0.58 km (1,900 ft)


Based on density of 2600 kg/m3, speed of 17 km/s, and an impact angle of 45

Stony asteroids that impact sedimentary rock and create a crater[7]
Kinetic energy at





100 m (330 ft)

47 Mt

3.8 Mt

1.2 km (0.75 mi)


130 m (430 ft)

103 Mt

31.4 Mt

2 km (1.2 mi)


150 m (490 ft)

159 Mt

71.5 Mt

2.4 km (1.5 mi)


200 m (660 ft)

376 Mt

261 Mt

3 km (1.9 mi)


250 m (820 ft)

734 Mt

598 Mt

3.8 km (2.4 mi)


300 m (980 ft)

1270 Mt

1110 Mt

4.6 km (2.9 mi)


400 m (1,300 ft)

3010 Mt

2800 Mt

6 km (3.7 mi)


700 m (2,300 ft)

16100 Mt

15700 Mt

10 km (6.2 mi)


1,000 m (3,300 ft)

47000 Mt

46300 Mt

13.6 km (8.5 mi)


Based on = 2600 kg/m3; v = 17 km/s; and an angle of 45

Objects with a diameter less than 1 m (3.3 ft) are called meteoroids and seldom make it to the ground to become meteorites. An
estimated 500 meteorites reach the surface each year, but only 5 or 6 of these typically create a weather radar signature with
a strewn field large enough to be recovered and be made known to scientists.
The late Eugene Shoemaker of the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the rate of Earth impacts, concluding that an event about the
size of the nuclear weapon that destroyed Hiroshima occurs about once a year.[citation needed] Such events would seem to be
spectacularly obvious, but they generally go unnoticed for a number of reasons: the majority of the Earth's surface is covered by
water; a good portion of the land surface is uninhabited; and the explosions generally occur at relatively high altitude, resulting in a
huge flash and thunderclap but no real damage.[citation needed]
Although no human is known to have been killed directly by an impact, over 1000 people were injured by the Chelyabinsk
meteor airburst event over Russia in 2013.[10] In 2005 it was estimated that the chance of a single person born today dying due to an
impact is around 1 in 200,000.[11] The four-meter-sized asteroids2008 TC3 and 2014 AA, and suspected artificial
satellite WT1190F are the only known objects to be detected before impacting the Earth.[12][13]
Geological significance[edit]
Impacts have had, during the history of the Earth, a significant geological[14] and climatic[15] influence.
The Moon's existence is widely attributed to a huge impact early in Earth's history.[16] Impact events earlier in the history of
Earth have been credited with creative as well as destructive events; it has been proposed that impacting comets delivered the

Earth's water, and some have suggested that the origins of life may have been influenced by impacting objects by bringing organic
chemicals or lifeforms to the Earth's surface, a theory known as exogenesis.

Eugene Merle Shoemakerwas first to prove thatmeteorite impacts have affected the Earth.
These modified views of Earth's history did not emerge until relatively recently, chiefly due to a lack of direct observations and the
difficulty in recognizing the signs of an Earth impact because of erosion and weathering. Large-scale terrestrial impacts of the sort
that produced the Barringer Crater, locally known as Meteor Crater, northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, are rare. Instead, it was widely
thought that cratering was the result of volcanism: the Barringer Crater, for example, was ascribed to a prehistoric volcanic explosion
(not an unreasonable hypothesis, given that the volcanic San Francisco Peaks stand only 30 miles (48 km) to the west). Similarly,
the craters on the surface of the Moon were ascribed to volcanism.
It was not until 19031905 that the Barringer Crater was correctly identified as an impact crater, and it was not until as recently as
1963 that research by Eugene Merle Shoemaker conclusively proved this hypothesis. The findings of late 20th-century space
exploration and the work of scientists such as Shoemaker demonstrated that impact cratering was by far the most widespread
geological process at work on the Solar System's solid bodies. Every surveyed solid body in the Solar System was found to be
cratered, and there was no reason to believe that the Earth had somehow escaped bombardment from space. In the last few
decades of the 20th century, a large number of highly modified impact craters began to be identified. The first direct observation of a
major impact event occurred in 1994: the collision of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter.
Based on crater formation rates determined from the Earth's closest celestial partner, the Moon, astrogeologists have determined
that during the last 600 million years, the Earth has been struck by 60 objects of a diameter of 5 km (3 mi) or more.[citation needed] The
smallest of these impactors would leave a crater almost 100 km (60 mi) across. Only three confirmed craters from that time period
with that size or greater have been found: Chicxulub, Popigai, and Manicouagan, and all three have been suspected of being linked
to extinction events[17][18] though only Chicxulub, the largest of the three, has been consistently considered.
Besides direct effect of asteroid impacts on a planet's surface topography, global climate and life, recent studies have shown that
several consecutive impacts might have an effect on the dynamo mechanism at a planet's core responsible for maintaining
the magnetic field of the planet, and might eventually shut down the planet's magnetic field.[19]
While numerous impact craters have been confirmed on land or in the shallow seas over continental shelves, no impact craters in
the deep ocean have been widely accepted by the scientific community.[20] Impacts of projectiles as large as one km in diameter are
generally thought to explode before reaching the sea floor, but it is unknown what would happen if a much larger impactor struck the
deep ocean. The lack of a crater, however, does not mean that an ocean impact would not have dangerous implications for
humanity. Some scholars have argued that an impact event in an ocean or sea may create a megatsunami (a giant wave), which
can cause destruction both at sea and on land along the coast,[21] but this is disputed.[22] An example of an ocean impact is the large
but apparently craterless Eltanin impact into the Pacific Ocean in 2.5 Ma and is thought to involve an object about 1 km across.
An impact event may cause a mantle plume (volcanism) at the antipodal point of the impact.[23]
Biospheric effects[edit]
The effect of impact events on the biosphere has been the subject of scientific debate. Several theories of impact-related mass
extinction have been developed. In the past 500 million years there have been five generally accepted major mass extinctions that
on average extinguished half of all species.[24] One of the largest mass extinctions to have affected life on Earth was the PermianTriassic, which ended the Permian period 250 million years ago and killed off 90 percent of all species; [25] life on Earth took 30

million years to recover.[26] The cause of the Permian-Triassic extinction is still a matter of debate; the age and origin of proposed
impact craters, i.e. the Bedout High structure, hypothesized to be associated with it are still controversial.[27] The last such mass
extinction led to the demise of thedinosaurs and coincided with a large meteorite impact; this is the CretaceousPaleogene
extinction event (also known as the KT or KPg extinction event), which occurred 66 million years ago. There is no definitive
evidence of impacts leading to the three other major mass extinctions.
In 1980, physicist Luis Alvarez; his son, geologist Walter Alvarez; and nuclear chemists Frank Asaro and Helen V. Michael from
the University of California, Berkeleydiscovered unusually high concentrations of iridium in a specific layer of rock strata in the
Earth's crust. Iridium is an element that is rare on Earth but relatively abundant in many meteorites. From the amount and
distribution of iridium present in the 65-million-year-old "iridium layer", the Alvarez team later estimated that an asteroid of 10 to
14 km (6 to 9 mi) must have collided with the earth. This iridium layer at the CretaceousPaleogene boundary has been found
worldwide at 100 different sites. Multidirectionally shocked quartz (coesite), which is normally associated with large impact
events[28] or atomic bomb explosions, has also been found in the same layer at more than 30 sites. Soot and ash at levels tens of
thousands times normal levels were found with the above.
Anomalies in chromium isotopic ratios found within the K-T boundary layer strongly support the impact theory.[29] Chromium isotopic
ratios are homogeneous within the earth, and therefore these isotopic anomalies exclude a volcanic origin, which has also been
proposed as a cause for the iridium enrichment. Further, the chromium isotopic ratios measured in the K-T boundary are similar to
the chromium isotopic ratios found in carbonaceous chondrites. Thus a probable candidate for the impactor is a carbonaceous
asteroid, but also a comet is possible because comets are assumed to consist of material similar to carbonaceous chondrites.
Probably the most convincing evidence for a worldwide catastrophe was the discovery of the crater which has since been
named Chicxulub Crater. This crater is centered on the Yucatn Peninsula of Mexico and was discovered by Tony Camargo and
Glen Pentfield while working as geophysicists for the Mexican oil companyPEMEX. What they reported as a circular feature later
turned out to be a crater estimated to be 180 km (110 mi) in diameter. This convinced the vast majority of scientists that this
extinction resulted from a point event that is most probably an extraterrestrial impact and not from increased volcanism and climate
change (which would spread its main effect over a much longer time period).
Although there is now general agreement that there was a huge impact at the end of the Cretaceous that led to the iridium
enrichment of the K-T boundary layer, remnants have been found of other, smaller impacts, some nearing half the size of the
Chicxulub crater, which did not result in any mass extinctions, and there is no clear linkage between an impact and any other
incident of mass extinction.[24]
Paleontologists David M. Raup and Jack Sepkoski have proposed that an excess of extinction events occurs roughly every 26
million years (though many are relatively minor). This led physicist Richard A. Muller to suggest that these extinctions could be due
to a hypothetical companion star to the Sun called Nemesisperiodically disrupting the orbits of comets in the Oort cloud, leading to a
large increase in the number of comets reaching the inner Solar System where they might hit Earth. Physicist Adrian Melott and
paleontologist Richard Bambach have more recently verified the Raup and Sepkoski finding, but argue that it is not consistent with
the characteristics expected of a Nemesis-style periodicity.[30]
Sociological and cultural effects[edit]
Main article: End of civilization
An impact event is commonly seen as a scenario that would bring about the end of civilization. In 2000, Discover
Magazine published a list of 20 possible suddendoomsday scenarios with an impact event listed as the most likely to occur.[31]
A joint Pew Research Center/Smithsonian survey from April 2126, 2010 found that 31 percent of Americans believed that an
asteroid will collide with Earth by 2050. A majority (61 percent) disagreed.[32]

Earth impacts[edit]

Artist's depiction of a collision between two planetary bodies. Such an impact between the Earth and a Mars-sized object
likely formed the Moon.
In the early history of the Earth (about four billion years ago), bolide impacts were almost certainly common since the Solar System
contained far more discrete bodies than at present. Such impacts could have included strikes by asteroids hundreds of kilometers in
diameter, with explosions so powerful that they vaporized all the Earth's oceans. It was not until this heavy bombardment slackened
that life appears to have begun to evolve on Earth.
The leading theory of the Moon's origin is the giant impact theory, which postulates that Earth was once hit by a planetoidthe size of
Mars; such a theory is able to explain the size and composition of the Moon, something not done by other theories of lunar
Evidence of a massive impact in South Africa near a geological formation known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt was uncovered
by scientists in April 2014. They estimated the impact occurred about 3.26 billion years ago and that the impactor was approximately
3758 kilometers (2336 miles) wide. The crater from this event, if it still exists, has not yet been found.[34]
Two 10-kilometre sized asteroids are now believed to have struck Australia between 360 and 300 million years ago at theWestern
Warburton and East Warburton Basins creating a 400-kilometre impact zone, according to evidence found in 2015 it is the largest
ever recorded.[35] A third, possible impact was also identified in 2015 to the north, on the upper Diamantina River, also believed to
have been caused by an asteroid 10 km across about 300 million years ago, but further studies are needed to establish that this
crustal anomaly was indeed the result of an impact event.[36]
Further information: Pleistocene

Aerial view of Barringer Crater inArizona

Artifacts recovered with tektites from the 803,000-year-old Australasian strewnfield event in Asia link a Homo erectuspopulation to a
significant meteorite impact and its aftermath.[37][38][39] Significant examples of Pleistocene impacts include the Lonar crater lake in
India, approximately 52,000 years old (though a study published in 2010 gives a much greater age), which now has a flourishing
semi-tropical jungle around it.[citation needed]

Further information: Holocene
The Rio Cuarto craters in Argentina were produced by a very low angle impact event approximately 10,000 years ago, which, if
proved correct, would place it at the beginning of the Holocene. The Campo del Cielo ("Field of Heaven") refers to an area bordering
Argentina's Chaco Province where a group of iron meteorites were found, estimated as dating to 4,0005,000 years ago. It first
came to attention of Spanish authorities in 1576; in 2015, police arrested four alleged smugglers trying to steal more than a ton of
protected meteorites.[40] The Henbury craters in Australia (~5,000 years old) and Kaali craters in Estonia (~2,700 years old) were
apparently produced by objects that broke up before impact.[citation needed]
A Chinese record states that 10,000 people were killed in the 1490 Ch'ing-yang event with the deaths caused by a hail of "falling
stones"; some astronomers hypothesize that this may describe an actual meteorite fall, although they find the number of deaths
Kamil Crater, discovered from Google Earth image review in Egypt, 45 m (148 ft) in diameter and 10 m (33 ft) deep, is thought to
have been formed less than 3,500 years ago in a then-unpopulated region of western Egypt. It was found February 19, 2009 by V.
de Michelle on a Google Earth image of the East Uweinat Desert, Egypt.[42]
20th-century impacts[edit]

Trees knocked over by theTunguska blast

One of the best-known recorded impacts in modern times was the Tunguska event, which occurred in Siberia, Russia, in 1908. This
incident involved an explosion that was probably caused by the airburst of an asteroid or comet 5 to 10 km (3.1 to 6.2 mi) above the
Earth's surface, felling an estimated 80 million trees over 2,150 km2 (830 sq mi).[citation needed]
A case of a human injured by a space rock occurred on November 30, 1954, in Sylacauga, Alabama.[43] There a 4 kg (8.8 lb) stone
chondrite crashed through a roof and hit Ann Hodges in her living room after it bounced off her radio. She was badly bruised by
the fragments. Several persons have since claimed to have been struck by "meteorites" but no verifiable meteorites have resulted.
A small number of meteor falls have been observed with automated cameras and recovered following calculation of the impact
point. The first of these was the Pribram meteorite, which fell in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in 1959.[44]In this case,
two cameras used to photograph meteors captured images of the fireball. The images were used both to determine the location of
the stones on the ground and, more significantly, to calculate for the first time an accurate orbit for a recovered meteorite.
Following the Pribram fall, other nations established automated observing programs aimed at studying infalling meteorites. One of
these was the Prairie Network, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory from 1963 to 1975 in the midwestern US.
This program also observed a meteorite fall, the "Lost City" chondrite, allowing its recovery and a calculation of its orbit. [45] Another
program in Canada, the Meteorite Observation and Recovery Project, ran from 1971 to 1985. It too recovered a single meteorite,
"Innisfree", in 1977.[46] Finally, observations by the European Fireball Network, a descendant of the original Czech program that
recovered Pribram, led to the discovery and orbit calculations for the Neuschwanstein meteorite in 2002.[47]
On August 10, 1972, a meteor which became known as the 1972 Great Daylight Fireball was witnessed by many people as it moved
north over the Rocky Mountains from the U.S. Southwest to Canada. It was filmed by a tourist at the Grand Teton National

Park in Wyoming with an 8-millimeter color movie camera.[48]The object was in the range of size from a car to a house and could
have ended its life in a Hiroshima-sized blast, but there was never any explosion. Analysis of the trajectory indicated that it never
came much lower than 58 km (36 mi) off the ground, and the conclusion was that it had grazed Earth's atmosphere for about 100
seconds, then skipped back out of the atmosphere to return to its orbit around the Sun.
Many impact events occur without being observed by anyone on the ground. Between 1975 and 1992, American missile early
warning satellites picked up 136 major explosions in the upper atmosphere.[49] In the November 21, 2002, edition of the
journal Nature, Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario reported on his study of US early warning satellite records for the
preceding eight years. He identified 300 flashes caused by 1 to 10 m (3 to 33 ft) meteors in that time period and estimated the rate
of Tunguska-sized events as once in 400 years.[50] Eugene Shoemaker estimated that an event of such magnitude occurs about
once every 300 years, though more recent analyses have suggested he exaggerated by an order of magnitude.
In the dark morning hours of January 18, 2000, a fireball exploded over the city of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory at an altitude of about
26 km (16 mi), lighting up the night like day. The meteor that produced the fireball was estimated to be about 4.6 m (15 ft) in
diameter, with a weight of 180 tonnes. This blast was also featured on the Science Channel series Killer Asteroids, with several
witness reports from residents in Atlin, British Columbia.
21st-century impacts[edit]
On 7 June 2006, a meteor was observed striking Reisadalen in Nordreisa municipality in Troms County, Norway. Although initial
witness reports stated that the resultant fireball was equivalent to the Hiroshima nuclear explosion, scientific analysis places the
force of the blast at anywhere from 100-500 tonnes TNT equivalent, around three percent of Hiroshima's yield.[51]
On 15 September 2007, a chondritic meteor crashed near the village of Carancas in southeastern Peru near Lake Titicaca, leaving
a water-filled hole and spewing gases across the surrounding area. Many residents became ill, apparently from the noxious gases
shortly after the impact.
On 7 October 2008, a meteroid labeled 2008 TC3 was tracked for 20 hours as it approached Earth and as it fell through the
atmosphere and impacted in Sudan. This was the first time an object was detected before it reached the atmosphere and hundreds
of pieces of the meteorite were recovered from the Nubian Desert.[52]

Trail left by the explodingChelyabinsk meteor as it passed over the city.

On 15 February 2013, an asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere over Russia as a fireball and exploded above the city
ofChelyabinsk during its passage through the Ural Mountains region at 09:13 YEKT (03:13 UTC).[53][54] The object's air burstoccurred
at an altitude between 30 and 50 km (19 and 31 mi) above the ground,[55] and about 1,500 people were injured, mainly by broken
window glass shattered by the shock wave. Two were reported in serious condition; however, there were no fatalities. [56] Initially
some 3,000 buildings in six cities across the region were reported damaged due to the explosion's shock wave, a figure which rose
to over 7,200 in the following weeks.[57][58] The Chelyabinsk meteor was estimated to have caused over $30 million in damage.[59][60] It
is the largest recorded object to have encountered the Earth since the 1908Tunguska event, by far the best documented, and the
only such event known to have resulted in a large number ofcasualties.[61][62] The meteor is estimated to have an initial diameter of
1720 metres and a mass of roughly 10,000 tonnes. On 16 October 2013, a team from Ural Federal University led by Victor
Grokhovsky recovered a large fragment of the meteor from the bottom of Russias Lake Chebarkul, about 80 km west of the city.[63]
Elsewhere in the Solar System[edit]
Evidence of massive past impact events[edit]
Main article: List of largest craters in the Solar System

Topographical map of the South PoleAitken basin based on Kaguyadata provides evidence of a massive impact event on the Moon
some 4.3 billion years ago
Impact craters provide evidence of past impacts on other planets in the Solar System, including possible interplanetary terrestrial
impacts. Without carbon dating, other points of reference are used to estimate the timing of these impact events. Mars provides
some significant evidence of possible interplanetary collisions. The North Polar Basin on Mars is speculated by some to be evidence
for a planet-sized impact on the surface of Mars between 3.8 and 3.9 billion years ago, while Utopia Planitia is the largest confirmed
impact and Hellas Planitia is the largest visible crater in the Solar System. The Moon provides similar evidence of massive impacts,
with the South PoleAitken basin being the biggest. Mercury's Caloris Basin is another example of a crater formed by a massive
impact event. Rheasilvia on Vesta is an example of a crater formed by an impact capable of, based on ratio of impact to size,
severely deforming a planetary-mass object. Impact craters on themoons of Saturn such as Engelier and Gerin on Iapetus, Mamaldi
on Rhea and Odysseus on Tethys and Herschel on Mimasform significant surface features.
Observed events[edit]

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's scar on Jupiter (dark area near Jupiter's limb)
On July 1994, Comet ShoemakerLevy 9 was a comet that broke apart and collided with Jupiter, providing the first direct
observation of an extraterrestrial collision ofSolar System objects.[64] The event served as a "wake-up call", and astronomers
responded by starting programs such as Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR), Near-Earth Asteroid
Tracking(NEAT), Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (LONEOS) and several others which have drastically increased the
rate of asteroid discovery.
The 2009 Jupiter impact event happened on July 19 when a new black spot about the size of Earth was discovered in Jupiter's
southern hemisphere by amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley. Thermal infrared analysis showed it was warm and spectroscopic
methods detected ammonia. JPL scientists confirmed that there was another impact event on Jupiter, probably involving a small
undiscovered comet or other icy body.[65][66][67] The impactor is estimated to have been about 200500 meters in diameter.

A 2010 Jupiter impact event occurred on June 3 involving an object estimated at 813 meters was recorded and first reported by
Anthony Wesley.[68][69][70]
On Sept 10, 2012, amateur astronomer Dan Petersen visually detected a fireball on Jupiter that lasted 1 or 2 seconds using a
12 LX200. It was estimated that the fireball was created by a meteoroid less than 10 meters in diameter.[71]
On March 17, 2016, a Jupiter impact event occurred involving an unknown object, possibly a small comet or asteroid estimated at
3090 meters (or a few hundred feet) across. Footage of the event was recorded from the telescope of amateur astronomer John
Other impacts[edit]

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3clearly shows the slow evolution of the debris coming from asteroid P/2010 A2, assumed to be due to
a collision with a smaller asteroid.
In 1998, two comets were observed plunging toward the Sun in close succession. The first of these was on June 1 and the second
the next day. A video of this, followed by a dramatic ejection of solar gas (unrelated to the impacts), can be found at the
NASA[73] website. Both of these comets evaporated before coming into contact with the surface of the Sun. According to a theory by
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Zdenk Sekanina, the latest impactor to actually make contact with the Sun was the
"supercomet" Howard-Koomen-Michels on August 30, 1979.[74] (See also sungrazer.)
In 2010, between January and May, Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3[75] took images of an unusual X shape originated in the aftermath
of the collision between asteroid P/2010 A2 with a smaller asteroid.
Around March 27, 2012, based on evidence, there were signs of an impact on Mars. Images from the Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter provide compelling evidence of the largest impact observed to date on Mars in the form of fresh craters, the largest
measuring 48.5 by 43.5 meters. It is estimated to be caused by an impactor 3 to 5 meters long. [76]

On March 19, 2013, an impact occurred on the Moon that was visible from Earth, when a boulder-sized 30 cm meteoroid slammed
into the lunar surface at 56,000 mph creating a 20-meter crater.[77][78] NASA has actively monitored lunar impacts since 2005,
tracking hundreds of candidate events.[80]
Extrasolar impacts[edit]

Asteroid collision led to the building of planets near star NGC 2547-ID8 (artist concept).
Collisions between galaxies, or galaxy mergers, have been observed directly by space telescopes such as Hubble and Spitzer.
However, collisions in planetary systems including stellar collisions, while long speculated, have only recently begun to be observed
In 2013, an impact between minor planets was detected around the star NGC 2547by Spitzer and confirmed by ground
observations. Computer modelling suggests that the impact involved large asteroids or protoplanets similar to the events believed to
have led to the formation of terrestrial planets like the Earth. [3]
Popular culture[edit]
Science fiction novels[edit]
Main article: Asteroids in fiction Collisions with planets
Numerous science fiction stories and novels center around an impact event. One of the first and more popular is Off on a
Comet (French: Hector Servadac) byJules Verne, published in 1877, and H. G. Wells wrote about such an event in his 1897 short
story "The Star." In more modern times, possibly the best-selling was the novel Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry
Pournelle. Arthur C. Clarke's novel Rendezvous with Rama opens with a significant asteroid impact in northern Italy in the year 2077
which gives rise to the Spaceguard Project, which later discovers the Rama spacecraft. In 1992 a Congressional study in the U.S.
led to NASA being directed to undertake the "Spaceguard Survey", with the novel being named as the inspiration for the name to
search for Earth-impacting asteroids.[81] This in turn inspired Clarke's 1993 novel The Hammer of God.
A variation on the traditional impact story was provided by Jack McDevitt's 1999 novel Moonfall, in which a very large comet
traveling at interstellar velocities collides with and partially destroys the Moon, fragments of which then collide with the Earth. The
1985 Niven and Pournelle novel Footfall features the examination of the effects of planetary warfare conducted by an alien species
that culminates in the use of asteroids to bombard the planet, creating very large craters and the human species' nearextinction. Robert A. Heinlein used the concept of guided meteors in his novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which Moon rebels
use rock-filled shipping containers as a weapon against their Earth oppressors.
Some science fiction has concerned itself not with the specifics of the impact event and/or its prevention or avoidance but its
secondary effects on human society.Ben H. Winters' 2012 novel The Last Policeman is set six months prior to an asteroid collision,
following a murder investigation that is complicated by the political and cultural responses to the impending event.
Cinema and television[edit]
See also: Asteroid impact avoidance Fictional representations
Several disaster films center on actual or threatened impact events. Released during the turbulence of World War I, the Danish
feature film The End of the Worldrevolves around the near-miss of a comet which causes fire showers and social unrest in Europe.
When Worlds Collide (1951), based on a 1933 novel by Philip Wylie, deals with two planets on a collision course with Earththe
smaller planet a "near miss," causing extensive damage and destruction, followed by a direct hit from the larger planet.
Meteor (1979) features small asteroid fragments and a large 8 km (5 mi)-wide asteroid heading for Earth. Orbiting U.S. and
Soviet nuclear weapons platforms are turned away from their respective earthbound targets and toward the incoming threat.

In 1998, two films were released in the United States on the subject of attempting to stop impact events:
Paramount/DreamWorks' Deep Impact, about a comet, and Touchstone Pictures' Armageddon, about an asteroid. Both involved
using Space Shuttle-derived craft to deliver nuclear weapons to destroy their targets. The 2008 American Broadcasting
Company's miniseries Impact deals with a splinter of a brown dwarf hidden in a meteor shower which strikes the Moon and sends it
on a collision course with Earth. The 2011 film Melancholia uses the motif of an impact event incorporated in the aesthetics
of Romanticism.[84]

There are many environmental effects from the impact of a large asteroid or comet (diameter 1 kilometre or more) with the Earth.
These effects depend mainly on:

the characteristics of the asteroid or comet (size, speed, mass, material composition and strength, trajectory)

the characteristics of the impact site (land, ice or ocean, latitude, types of rocks) and

the prevailing climatic conditions (stage of ice age, association with other impacts, seasons - for smaller impacts).

There is, therefore, no such thing as a "typical" impact. Subject to this caution, the following table sets out, in chronological order, the
expected environmental effects of a large stony asteroid with a speed of around 22 kilometres per second (50,000 mph), striking land
in the middle latitudes.

A giant ancient barrage of asteroids striking Earth may have lasted much longer than previously thought, with some collisions
perhaps even rivaling those that created the largest craters on the moon, researchers say.
Scientists think untold numbers of asteroids and comets pummeled Earth, the moon and the inner planets during an era known as
the Late Heavy Bombardment about 4.1 billion to 3.8 billion years ago. Investigators continue to debate the precise nature of this
epoch in terms of what happened and how long it lasted.
To learn more about the Late Heavy Bombardment, scientists would like to analyze the most obvious evidence cosmic impacts
leave behind, their craters. However, while such craters are preserved well in the vacuum of the moon environment, they disappear
quickly on Earth due to erosion and tectonic activity.
Instead, researchers analyzed other evidence of asteroid impacts millimeter- to centimeter-thick layers of rock droplets known as
"Spherule layers, if preserved in the geologic record, provide information about an impact even when the source crater cannot be
found," said study lead author Brandon Johnson at Purdue University.
Gigantic collisions kicked up huge molten plumes that rained down beds of sand-sized spherules.
"We can look at these spherules, see how thick the layer is, how big the spherules are, and we can infer the size and velocity of the
asteroid," said study co-author Jay Melosh at Purdue University. "We can go back to the earliest era in the history of the Earth and
infer the population of asteroids impacting the planet." [Video: Killer Asteroids Explained]
Modeling Earth's asteroid barrage
The scientists used computer models to deduce impact sizes from spherule bed properties.
"Some of the asteroids that we infer were about 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) in diameter, much larger than the one that killed off the
dinosaurs about 65 million years ago that was about 12 to 15 kilometers (7.4 to 9.3 miles)," Melosh said.

"The impacts may have played a large role in the evolutional history of life," Johnson added. "The large number of impacts may
have helped simple life by introducing organics and other important materials at a time when life on Earth was just taking hold."
When the researchers looked at the number and sizes of impactors, the pattern they saw suggested many more small objects than
large ones, "a pattern that matches exactly the distribution of sizes in the asteroid belt," Melosh said. "For the first time we have a
direct connection between the crater size distribution on the ancient Earth and the sizes of asteroids out in space."
At least 12 spherule beds deposited between 1.7 billion and 3.47 billion years ago have been found. This reveals that impacts
occurred well after the presumed end of the Late Heavy Bombardment.
"The Late Heavy Bombardment lasted much longer than previously thought it goes to at least 2.5 billion years ago, although the
number of impacts dropped off over time," Johnson told

A sample of the 2.63 billion-year-old Jeerinah spherule layer from Western Australia. The millimeter-scale circles are
impact spherules that once had crystalline rims (lighter) and central glass cores (darker) that were replaced by
other minerals.
Credit: Bruce M. Simonson
Did Jupiter play a role?
The best available model of the Late Heavy Bombardment suggests the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune migrated
around the solar system at this time, with their gravitational pulls slinging asteroids and comets toward the inner solar system.
However, this model would suggest the Late Heavy Bombardment only lasted 100 million to 200 million years, not nearly long
enough to explain the newfound spherule beds. [Fallen Stars: A Gallery of Famous Meteorites]
Instead, William Bottke at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and his colleagues investigated a possible missing
source of impactors along the inner edge of the main asteroid belt. This region, known as the E belt, is now mostly unstable, but
researchers think this may not have been the case 4 billion years ago, holding enough matter to barrage Earth with numerous
asteroids and comets over a long time.
Specifically, they estimate that approximately 70 dinosaur-killer-size or larger impacts hit the Earth over a span that lasted between
3.8 and 1.8 billion years ago, with four also hitting the moon.
The frequency of these impacts was high enough to reproduce the known spherule beds, and also hints at the possibility that two
gigantic craters resulted from the Late Heavy Bombardment the enormous 112-mile-wide (180-km) Vredefort crater in South
Africa, which is 2 billion years old, and the nearly 155-mile (250-km) Sudbury crater in Canada, which is 1.85 billion years old.
"These huge craters may be the last gasp of the Late Heavy Bombardment on Earth," Bottke told
The very largest impacts on Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment should be similar to the ones causing the 15 or so
youngest and largest lunar basins, some of which are roughly 186 miles wide (300 km). The strikes that gouged out such huge holes
may have released nearly 500 times the blast energy of the Chicxulub impact, the one thought to have ended the Age of Dinosaurs,
researchers said.
"It will be interesting to see whether these mammoth events affected the evolution of early life on our planet or our biosphere in
important ways," Bottke said.
The scientists detailed their findings online April 25 in two papers in the journal Nature.

Meteorites, Impacts, and Mass Extinction

This document last updated on 02-Dec-2014

On February 15, 2013 a meteor exploded in the sky over Chelyabinsk, southern Russia. Although no people or buildings were hit by the
resulting meteorite, the shockwave from the exploding object injured about 1500 people and caused damage to 7200 buildings in the region.
The fireball and was caught on video, mainly by dash cameras throughout the region, which were posted on the internet by news organizations
individuals. Although the Chelyabinsk meteorite probably weighed about 12,00013,000 metric tonnes, and measured 17 to 20 m in diameter
before it exploded, sientists were quick to point out that it was very small compared to other objects that could potentially hit the earth. The

explosion released energy estimated at about 500 kilotons of TNT (about 20 to 30 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb). The
event brought to the world's attention the very real hazards associated with the impact of objects from outer space.
A Meteorite is a piece of rock from outer space that strikes the surface of the Earth.
A Meteoroid is a meteorite before it hits the surface of the Earth.
Meteors are glowing fragments of rock matter from outside the Earth's atmosphere that burn and glow upon entering the Earth's atmosphere.
They are more commonly known as shooting stars. Some meteors, particularly larger ones, may survive passage through the atmosphere to
become meteorites, but most are small objects that burn up completely in the atmosphere. They are not, in reality, shooting stars.
Fireballs are very bright meteors.
Meteor Showers - During certain times of the year, the Earth's orbit passes through a belt of high concentration of cosmic dust and other
particles, and many meteors are observed. The Perseid Shower, results from passage through one of these belts every year in mid-August, and
Leonid shower occurs in mid-November.
Throughout history there have been reports of stones falling from the sky, but the scientific community did not recognize the extraterrestrial
origin of meteorites until the 1700s. Within recent history meteorites have even hit humans

1938 - a small meteorite crashed through the roof of a garage in Illinois

1954 - A 5kg meteorite fell through the roof of a house in Alabama.

1992 - A small meteorite demolished a car near New York City.

2003 - A 20 kg meteorite crashed through a 2 story house in uptown New Orleans

2003 - A shower of meteorites destroyed several houses and injured 20 people in India

Meteorite fragments have been found all over the surface of the Earth, although most have been found in Antarctica. In Antarctica they are
easily seen on the snow covered surface or embedded in ice.
The fall of meteorites to the Earth's surface is part of the continuing process of accretion of the Earth from the dust and rock of space. When
these rock fragments come close enough to the Earth to be attracted by its gravity they may fall to the Earth to become part of it. As we will see
the evolution of life on the Earth has likely been affected by collisions with these space objects, and collisions could affect the Earth in the
future as well.

Composition and Classification of Meteorites

Meteorites can be classified generally into three types:

Stones - Stony meteorites resemble rocks found on and within the Earth. They are the most common type of meteorite, although
because they resemble Earth rocks they are not commonly recognized as meteorites unless someone actually witnesses their fall.
Stony meteorites are composed mainly of the minerals olivine, and pyroxene. Some have a composition that is roughly equivalent to
the Earth's mantle. Two types are recognized:

Chondrites - Chondrites are the most common type of stony meteorite. They are made of olivine, pyroxene, and iron nickel alloys that are magnetic. They are composed of small round spheres, called chondrules, made of the minerals
olivine and pyroxene. They appear to have formed by rapid melting followed by rapid cooling early in the history of the

solar system. Most chondrites have radiometric age dates of about 4.6 billion years.

Achondrites - Achondrites are composed of the same minerals as chondrites, but lack the chondrules. They appear to have
been heated, melted, and recrystallized so that the chondrules are no longer present. Most resemble igneous rocks found
on the Earth.

Irons - Iron meteorites are composed of alloys of iron and nickel. They are easily recognized because they have a much higher
density than normal crustal rocks. Thus, most meteorites found by the general populace are iron meteorites. All are magnetic. When
cut and polished, iron meteorites show a distinct texture called a Widmansttten pattern. This pattern results from slow cooling of a
once hot solid material. Most research suggest that such slow cooling occurred in the core of much larger body that has since been
fragmented. Iron meteorites give us a clue to the composition of the Earth's core.

Stony Irons - Stony iron meteorites consist of a mixture of stony silicate material and iron. Some show the silicates embedded in a
matrix of iron-nickel alloy. Others occur as a breccia, where fragments of stony and iron material have been cemented together by
either heat or chemical reactions.

Origin of Meteorites
Most meteorites appear to be fragments of larger bodies called parent bodies. These could have been small planets or large asteroids that were
part of the original solar system. There are several possibilities as to where these parent bodies, or their fragments, originated.

The Asteroid Belt

The asteroid belt is located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It consists of a swarm of about 100,000 objects called
asteroids. Asteroids are small rocky bodies with irregular shapes that have a cratered surface. About 4,000 of these asteroids have
been officially classified and their orbital paths are known. Once they are so classified they are given a name.

The asteroids are either remnants of a planet that formed in the region between Mars and Jupiter but was later broken up by a
collision with another planetary body, or are fragments that failed to accrete into a planet. The latter possibility is more likely
because the total mass of the asteroids is not even equal to our moon. It does appear that some of the asteroids are large enough to
have undergone internal differentiation. Differentiation is a process that forms layering in a planetary body (i.e. the Earth has
differentiated into a core, mantle, and crust). If these larger asteroids did in fact undergo differentiation, then this could explain the
origin of the different types of meteorites. Because of the shapes of the asteroids it also appears that some of them have undergone
fragmentation resulting from collisions with other asteroids. Such collisions could have caused the larger bodies to be broken up into
the smaller objects we observe as meteorites.

The Asteroids as Parent Bodies of Meteorites

Much evidence suggests that the asteroids could be the parent bodies of meteorites. The larger ones could have
differentiated into a core, mantle, and crust. Fragmentation of these large bodies would then have done two things: First
the fragments would explain the various types of meteorites found on Earth - the stones representing the mantle and crust
of the original parent body, the irons representing the cores, and the stony irons the boundary between the core and mantle
of the parent bodies. Second, the collisions that caused the fragmentation could send the fragments into Earth-crossing

Some of the asteroids have orbits that bring them close to Earth. These are calledAmor objects. Some have orbital paths that cross the orbital
path of the Earth. These are called Earth-crossing asteroids or Apollo objects. All objects that have a close approach to the Earth are often
referred to as Near Earth Objects orNEOs. About 150 NEOs with diameters between 1 and 8 km are known, but this is only a fraction of the
total number. Many NEOs will eventually collide with the Earth. These objects have unstable orbits because they are under the gravitational
influence of both the Earth and Mars. The source of these objects is likely the asteroid belt.

Comets as Parent Bodies of Meteorites

A Comet is a body that orbits around the Sun with an eccentric orbit. These orbits are not circular like those of the planets and are
not necessarily within the same plane as the planets. Most comets have elliptical orbits which send them to the far outer reaches of
the solar system and back toward a closer approach to the sun. As a comet approaches the sun, solar radiation generates gases from
evaporation of the comet's surface. These gases are pushed away from the comet and glow in the sun light, thus giving the comet its
tail. While the outer surface of comets appear to composed of icy material like water and carbon dioxide solids, they likely contain a
more rocky nucleus. Because of their eccentric orbits, many comets eventually cross the orbit of the Earth. Many meteor showers
may be caused by the Earth crossing an orbit of a fragmented comet.

The collision of a cometary fragment is thought to

have occurred in the Tunguska region of Siberia in
1908. The blast was about the size of a 15
megaton nuclear bomb. It knocked down trees in
an area about 850 square miles, but did not leave
a crater. Although still controversial, the general
consensus among scientists is that a cometary
fragment about 20 to 60 meters in diameter
exploded in the Earth's atmosphere just above the
Earth's surface. A similar event if it happened over
a large city, would be devastating.

Other Sources
While the asteroid belt seems like the most likely source of meteorites, some meteorites appear to have
come from other places. Some meteorites have chemical compositions similar to samples brought back
from the moon. Others are thought to have originated on Mars. These types of meteorites could have
been ejected from the Moon or Mars by collisions with other asteroids, or from Mars by volcanic eruptions.

Impact Events
When a large object impacts the surface of the Earth, the rock at the site of the impact is deformed and some of it is ejected into the atmosphere
to eventually fall back to the surface. This results in a bowl shaped depression with a raised rim, called an Impact Crater. The size of the
impact crater depends on such factors as the size and velocity of the impacting object and the angle at which it strikes the surface of the Earth.
Meteorite Flux and Size
Meteorite flux is the total mass of extraterrestrial objects that strike the Earth. This is currently about 107 to 109 kg/year. Much of this material
is dust-sized objects called micrometeorites. The frequency at which meteorites of different sizes strike the Earth depends on the size of the
objects, as shown in the graph below. Note the similarity between this graph and the flood recurrence interval graphs we looked at in our

discussion of flooding.
Tons of micrometeorites strike the Earth each day. Because of their small size, they do not usually burn up when
entering the Earth's atmosphere, but instead settle slowly to the surface. Meteorites with diameters of about 1 mm
strike the Earth about once every 30 seconds. Upon entering the Earth's atmosphere the friction of passage
through the atmosphere generates enough heat to melt or vaporize the objects, resulting in so called shooting

Meteorites of larger sizes strike the Earth less frequently. If they have a size greater than about 2 or 3 cm, they
only partially melt or vaporize on passage through the atmosphere, and thus strike the surface of the Earth.
Objects with sizes greater than 1 km are considered to produce effects that would be catastrophic, because an
impact of such an object would produce global effects. Such meteorites strike the Earth relatively infrequently - a
1 km sized object strikes the Earth about once every million years, and 10 km sized objects about once every 100
million years.
Velocity and Energy Release of Incoming Objects
The velocities at which small meteorites have impacted the Earth range from 4 to 40 km/sec. Larger objects would not be slowed down much
by the friction associated with passage through the atmosphere, and thus would impact the Earth with high velocity. Calculations show that a
meteorite with a diameter of 30 m, weighing about 300,000 tons, traveling at a velocity of 15 km/sec (33,500 miles/hour) would release energy
equivalent to about 20 million tons of TNT.

Such a meteorite struck at Meteor Crater, Arizona (the Barringer Crater) about 49,000 years ago leaving a crater 1200 m in diameter and 200 m

The amount of energy released by an impact depends on the size of the impacting body and its velocity.
E = MV2
where E = Energy, M = Mass (depends on size and density of the object), and V = Velocity

An impact like the one that struck the

Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico about 65
million years ago, thought responsible for
the extinction of the dinosaurs and
numerous other species, created the
Chicxulub Crater, 180 km in diameter and
released energy equivalent to about 100
million megatons of TNT.

For comparison, the amount of energy needed to create a nuclear winter on the Earth as a result of nuclear war is
about 8,000 megatons, and the energy equivalent of the world's nuclear arsenal is about 60,000 megatons.

Cratered Surfaces
Looking at the surface of the Moon, one is impressed by the fact that most of the surface features of the moon are shaped by impact craters. The
Earth is subject to more than twice the amount of impacting events than the moon because of its larger size and higher gravitational attraction.
Yet, the Earth does not show a cratered surface like the moon. The reason for this is that the surface of the Earth is continually changing due to
processes like erosion, weathering, tectonism, sedimentation, and volcanism. Thus, the only craters that are evident on the Earth are either very
young, very large, or occurred on stable continental areas that have not been subject to intense surface modification processes. Currently,
approximately 200 terrestrial impact structures have been identified, with the discovery rate of new structures in the range of 3-5 per year.

The Mechanics of Impact Cratering

When a large extraterrestrial object enters the Earth's atmosphere the initial impact with the atmosphere will compress the atmosphere, sending a
shock wave through the air. Frictional heating will cause the object to heat and glow. Melting and even vaporization of the outer parts of the
object will begin, but if the object is large enough, solid material will remain when it impacts the surface of the Earth.

Impacts of large meteorites have never been

observed by humans. Much of our knowledge
about what happens next must come from scaled
experiments. As the solid object plows into the
Earth, it will compress the rocks to form a
depression and cause a jet of fragmented rock and
dust to be expelled into the atmosphere. This
material is called ejecta. The impact will send a
shock wave into the rocks below, and the rocks will
be crushed into small fragments to form a breccia.
Some of the ejecta will be hot enough to vaporize,
and the heat generated by the impact could be
high enough to actually melt the rock at the site of
the impact. The shock wave entering the Earth
will first move in as a compressional wave (Pwave), but after passage of the compressional
wave an expansion wave (rarefaction wave) will
move back toward the surface. This will cause the
floor of the crater to be uplifted and may also
cause the rock around the rim of the crater to bent
upward. Faulting may also occur in the rocks
around the crater, causing the crater to become
enlarged, and have a concentric set of rings.

The ejecta will eventually settle back to the Earth's surface forming an ejecta blanket that is thick near the crater
rim and thins outward from the crater. Rocks below the crater that were not melted by the impact will be
intensely fractured. All of this would happen in a matter of 1 to 2 minutes.

Meteorite Impacts and Mass Extinctions

The impact of a space object with a size greater than about 1 km would be expected to be felt over the entire surface of the Earth. Smaller

objects would certainly destroy the ecosystem in the vicinity of the impact, similar to the effects of a volcanic eruption, but larger impacts could
have a worldwide effect on life on the Earth. We will here first consider the possible effects of an impact, and then discuss how impacts may
have resulted in mass extinction of species on the Earth in the past.
Regional and Global Effects
Again, we as humans have no firsthand knowledge of what the effects of an impact of a large meteorite (> 1 km in size) or comet would be.
Still, calculations can be made and scaled experiments can be conducted to estimate the effects. The general consensus is summarized here.

Massive earthquake - up to Richter Magnitude 13, and numerous large magnitude aftershocks would
result from the impact of a large object with the Earth.


The large quantities of dust put into the atmosphere would block incoming solar radiation. The dust could
take months to settle back to the surface. Meanwhile, the Earth would be in a state of continual
darkness, and temperatures would drop throughout the world, generating global winter like conditions. A
similar effect has been postulated for the aftermath of a nuclear war (termed a nuclear winter). Blockage
of solar radiation would also diminish the ability of photosynthetic organisms, like plants, to
photosynthesize. Since photosynthetic organisms are the base of the food chain, this would seriously
disrupt all ecosystems.


Widespread wildfires ignited by radiation from the fireball as the object passed through the atmosphere
would be generated. Smoke from these fires would further block solar radiation to enhance the cooling
effect and further disrupt photosynthesis.


If the impact occurred in the oceans, a large steam cloud would be produced by the sudden evaporation
of the seawater. This water vapor and CO2 would remain in the atmosphere long after the dust settles.
Both of these gases are greenhouse gases which scatter solar radiation and create a warming effect.
Thus, after the initial global cooling, the atmosphere would undergo global warming for many years after
the impact.


If the impact occurred in the oceans, giant tsunami would be generated. For a 10 km-diameter object the
leading edge would hit the seafloor of the deep ocean basins before the top of the object had reached sea
level. The tsunami from such an impact is estimated to produce waves from 1 to 3 km high. These could
easily flood the interior of continents.


Large amounts of nitrogen oxides would result from combining Nitrogen and Oxygen in the atmosphere
due to the shock produced by the impact. These nitrogen oxides would combine with water in the
atmosphere to produce nitric acid which would fall back to the surface as acid rain, resulting in the
acidification of surface waters.

The Geologic Record of Mass Extinction

It has long been known that extinction of large percentages families or species of organisms have occurred at specific times in the history of our
planet. Among the mechanisms that have been suggested to have caused these mass extinctions have been large volcanic eruptions, changes in
climatic conditions, changes in sea level, and, more recently, meteorite impacts. While the meteorite impact theory of mass extinctions has
become accepted by many scientists for particular extinction events, there is still considerable controversy among scientists. In this course we
will accept the possibility that an impact with a large object could have caused at least some of the mass extinction events, as it would certainly
seem possible given the effects that an impact could have, as discussed above. Still, because of their are many other possibilities for the cause
of mass extinctions, please read your book for the arguments against the impact theory.

Major extinction events occurred at

the end of the Tertiary Period, 1.6 million

years (m.y.) ago.

the end of the Cretaceous Period, marking the

boundary between the Cretaceous and
Tertiary periods 65 m.y. ago. (Geologists use
the letter K to stand for Cretaceous Period and
the letter T for the Tertiary Period. Thus this
boundary is commonly called the K-T

the end of the Triassic, 208 m.y. ago.

the end of the Permian, 245 m.y. ago

(estimated that over 96% of the species alive
at the time became extinct).

the end of the Devonian, 360 m.y. ago

the end of Ordovician, 438 m.y. ago

the end of the Cambrian period, 505 m.y. ago

The mass extinction at the end of the Mesozoic Era, that is the Cretaceous - Tertiary boundary (often called the K-T
boundary) 65 million years ago, shows much evidence that it was related to an impact with an extraterrestrial
object. This event resulted in the extinction of over 50% of the species living at the time, including the dinosaurs.
In 1978 a group of scientist led by Walter Alvarez of the University of California, Berkeley, were able to locate the
K-T boundary very precisely in layers of limestones near Gubbio, Italy. At the boundary they found a thin clay
layer. Chemical analysis of the clay revealed that it contains an anomalously high concentration of the rare
element Iridium (Ir). Ir has extremely low concentrations in most crustal rocks, however it reaches very high
concentrations in meteorites. The only other possible source of high concentrations of Ir is basaltic magmas. Over
the next several years, the K-T boundary was located at several other sites throughout the world, and also found to
have a thin clay layer with high concentrations of Ir. Although a large eruption of basaltic magma could not
immediately be ruled out as the source of the high concentration of Ir, other evidence began to accumulate that
the fallout of impact ejecta had been responsible for both the thin clay layers and the high concentrations of Ir.
Among the evidence found at different localities where the K-T boundary is exposed is:

Clay layers at some localities have a high proportion of black carbon that could have originated as soot
produced by wildfires set off by an impact.

Some of the clay layers contain grains of quartz with a crystal structure that shows evidence that the
quartz was severely strained by a large shock.

In some clay layers tiny grains of the mineral stishovite is found. Stishovite is a high pressure form of
SiO2 that is not found at the Earth's surface except around known meteorite impact sites. The mineral
can only be produced as a result of extremely deep burial in the Earth, or by high pressure generated by

an impact.

Other clay layers contain tiny spherical droplets of glass, called spherules. The glass is not basaltic in
composition, but could represent droplets of melt formed during an impact event.

At the time of these discoveries, there was no

known impact structure on the Earth with an
age of 65 million years. This is not
unexpected, since 71% of the Earth's surface
is covered by water, and is largely unexplored.
But, in the late 1980s attention started to be
focused on a buried impact site near the tip of
the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. Here oil
geologists had drilled through layers of
brecciated rock and found impact melt rock.
Further geophysical studies revealed a circular
structure about 180 km in diameter.
Radiometric dating reveals that the structure,
called the Chicxulub Crater, formed about 65
million years ago.

Although the crater itself is now filled and buried by younger rocks, drilling throughout the Gulf of Mexico has
revealed the presence of shocked quartz, glass spherules, and soot in deposits the same age as the crater. In
addition, geologists have found deposits from the tsunami that was generated by the impact all along the Gulf of
Mexico coast extending considerable distance inland from the current shoreline. (See simulation
at The size of the crater suggest that the object that produced it was about
10 km in diameter.
While there is still some debate among geologists and paloebiologists as to whether or not the extinctions that occurred at the K-T boundary
were caused by the impact that formed Chicxulub Crater, it is clear that an impact did occur about 65 million years ago, and that it likely had
effects that were global in scale. What would happen if another such event occurred while we humans dominate the surface of the Earth, and
what could we as humans do, if anything to prevent such a catastrophic disaster?
Human Hazards
It should be clear that even if an impact of a large space object did not cause the extinction of humans, the effects
would cause a natural disaster of proportions never witnessed by the human race. Here we first look at the
chances that such an impact could occur, then look at how we can predict or provide warning of such an event,
and finally discuss ways that we might be able to protect ourselves from such an event.

Risk - It is estimated that in any given year the odds that you will die from an impact of an asteroid or
comet are between 1 in 3,000 and 1 in 250,000. The table below shows the odds of dying in the U.S.
from various other causes. Although this seems like long odds, you have a about the of dying from other
natural disasters likes floods and tornadoes. In fact the odds of dying from an impact event are much
better than the odds of winning the Powerball lottery.

Odds of Dying in the U.S. from Selected Causes in a Human Lifetime

Data from Abbott (2012)


Motor Vehicle Accident

1 in 90


1 in 185


1 in 250

Firearms Accident

1 in 2,500


1 in 9,000


1 in 27,000

Airplane Crash

1 in 30,000


1 in 60,000

Asteroid/Comet Impact Global

1 in 75,000


1 in 130,000


1 in 135,000

Asteroid/Comet Impact Regional

1 in 1,600,000

Food Poisoning by Botulism

1 in 3,000,000

Shark Attack

1 in 8,000.000

Odds of winning the PowerBall

1 in 195,249,054

In March, 1989 an asteroid named 1989 FC passed within 700,000 km of the Earth, crossing the orbit of the Earth. It was not
discovered until after it had passed through the orbit of the Earth. Its size was estimated to be about 0.5 km. Such a body is
expected to hit the Earth about once every million years or so, and would release energy equivalent to about 10,000 megatons of
TNT, a little greater than the energy released in a nuclear war, and enough to cause nuclear winter event (see graph above). Although
700,000 km seems like a long distance, it translates to a miss of the Earth by only a few hours at orbital velocities.
On March 19, 2004, a 30 m diameter asteroid, named 2004 FH, passed within 26,500 miles (43,000 km) of earth, just beyond the
orbit of weather satellites. The object was small , and likely would have only caused a local effect if it had hit the earth's atmosphere,
but it was discovered only 4 days before it passed.
On November 8, 2011, Asteroid 2005 YU55, 400 m in diameter passed within the moons orbit. It was the first time such an object
was known and photographed before it reached its nearest point to the earth
In June of 2012, Asteroid 2012 LZ1 passed within about 3 million miles of Earth. Although it was never a threat, the fact that it was
discovered only a few days before was alarming. Furthermore, its size was originally estimated to be only 500 m in diameter, as it

passed, scientists realized that this was an underestimate. Its size turned out to be about 1 km.

The Torino Scale - In order to develop a better means of communicating the potential hazards of a
possible impact with a space object, scientists have developed a scale that describes the potential (see
- The scale is called the Torino Scale, and is shown below.

Events Having No Likely Consequences

(White Zone)

Events Meriting Careful Monitoring

(Green Zone)

Events Meriting Concern

(Yellow Zone)

Threatening Events
(Orange Zone)

The chance of collision is extremely unlikely, about

the same as a random object of the same size
striking the Earth within the next few decades.

A somewhat close, but not unusual encounter.

Collision is very unlikely.

A close encounter, with 1% or greater chance of a

collision capable of causing localized destruction.

A close encounter, with 1% or greater chance of a

collision capable of causing regional devastation.

A close encounter, with a significant threat of a

collision capable of causing regional devastation.

A close encounter, with a significant threat of a

collision capable of causing a global catastrophe.

Certain Collisions
(Red Zone)

The likelihood of a collision is zero, or well below the

chance that a random object of the same size will
strike the Earth within the next few decades. This
designation also applies to any small object that, in
the event of a collision, is unlikely to reach the
Earth's surface intact.


A close encounter, with an extremely significant

threat of a collision capable of causing a global
A collision capable of causing localized destruction.
Such events occur somewhere on Earth between
once per 50 years and once per 1000 years.
A collision capable of causing regional devastation.
Such events occur between once per 1000 years and
once per 100,000 years.
A collision capable of causing a global climatic
catastrophe. Such events occur once per 100,000
years, or less often.

Prediction and Warning - In 1998 scientists and Congress approved the Spaceguard Survey which had
a goal of identifying 90% of all NEOs with a size greater than 1 km.
In September, 2011, NASA announced that they had identified 93% of all NEOs of this size and that of
the total number estimated to exist (989) they had identified 911.
For mid-sized NEOs, with sizes between 100 m and 1 km, 5,200 have been found and are being tracked,
but it is estimated that there are still over 15,000 of such bodies that have not yet been discovered.

Mitigation - Impacts are the only natural hazard that we can prevent from happening by either
deflecting the incoming object or destroying it. Of course, we must first know about such objects and
their paths in order to give us sufficient warning to prepare a defense. Sufficient time is usually thought
to be about 10 years. This would likely give us enough time to prepare a space mission to intercept the
object and deflect its path by setting off a nuclear explosion. Currently, however, there are no detailed
plans. But, even if we did not have the ability to destroy or deflect such an object, 10 years warning
would provide sufficient time to store food and supplies, and maybe even evacuate the area immediately
surrounding the expected impact site.

Earth Impact by an Asteroid: Prospects and Effects

In the past two decades, the topic of an asteroid impacting Earth has become very popular for various reasons,

The theory that an asteroid impact led to the demise of the dinosaurs
Scientific recognition of additional asteroid impact sites and other evidence of Earth impacts in

ancient times
The movies Deep Impact and Armageddon, plus some other dramatic videos
Probes to asteroids and comets by NASA and other space agencies, which return photos for the

general public (and data)

Promotional campaigns for asteroid detection programs, including to the US Congress which

funds them
With better telescope coverage, the discovery of asteroids which make close approaches of the

Earth, and news thereof

Occasional meteor sightings, which get better coverage on the internet

Impact of Earth by an asteroid would be sensational and possibly cataclysmic. Many people think this is the worst
thing which could possibly happen to civilization. However, they're most probably wrong.
A far more probable, as well as much more devastating, threat is by simply the advance of human military or
commercial biotechnology regarding superviruses and some other agents which could wipe out millions or billions
of people, and possibly make humans extinct, as covered on another website of mine,
(where I hardly even mention asteroid impact, as I don't consider them an extinction risk, just a cataclysm).
The solution to both problems -- human extinction risks as well as asteroid impact threats -- is to develop the
resources of outer space for human colonization as well as planetary defense, which means utilizing the asteroids
for their resources.

Awareness of the risks of advancing biotechnology and nanotechnology are at about the same stage now as the
threat of asteroids was in the 1980s, but the risks of biotechnology are sure to eventually be recognized and pass
the perceived threat of asteroid impact within the next decade.
In history up to the 1970s, there was little interest in asteroids, including near Earth asteroids. They were
considered low class astronomical objects. Indeed, the small comet which destroyed hundreds of square kilometers
in remote Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908 was an event little known to the general public.
In the 1970s, things started to change. A small but increasing number of astronomers interested in asteroids
began to realize the abundance of asteroids which passed close to Earth, by instituting processes to catalog
asteroids accidentally seen on telescopic plates and previously not recorded (in most cases) but seen as a
nuisance, as discussed in the PERMANENT section on discovering and cataloging asteroids.
Theoretical models, assisted by computer calculations, revealed that the gravity of the planets caused a sizeable
number of asteroids from the Main Belt between Mars and Jupiter to cascade down into lower orbits approaching or
crossing Earth's. Further, a significant fraction of comets passing through the inner solar system would be diverted
into orbits near Earth due to gravitational encounters with the inner planets.
As a result of these discoveries, the estimated numbers of near-Earth objects (NEOs) dramatically expanded by
about 1000 times! Scientists started to take note and interest.
Ever improving U.S. Defense Dept. sensor technology looking for the satellites of adversaries recorded a
surprisingly high frequency of asteroid viewings as well as meteor fireballs hitting Earth's upper atmosphere, the
latter greatly augmented by sound sensors listening for the booms of nuclear tests. Part of this process was
discriminating between satellites and distant asteroids seen, and nuclear tests vs. meteor fireballs heard.
New telescope technology (CCDs) emerging around 1990 increased the discovery rate of all asteroids and
confirmed the above theory on the abundance of asteroids (based on solid statistical sampling rates). In fact, the
latest estimates project that there are about 300,000 near-Earth asteroids over 100 meters in diameter.
Approximately 1000 near Earth asteroids of size 1 kilometer in diameter have already been found, though the total
is not expected to be more than 20% over this amount.
Smaller asteroids are much more difficult to detect. The cutoff size of what could cause major damage to Earth,
such as a tsunami or an airburst, is difficult to state because it depends upon what the asteroid is made of, e.g., a
metal asteroid vs. a soft one. Some sources put it at about 150 meters. A 10 meter asteroid can produce an
explosion with approximately the same power as the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima, but that would occur very high in
the atmosphere where it would be harmless.
If a hard asteroid of size 200 meters hit the ocean (which covers 70% of the Earth), the tsunami (i.e., giant wave)
it would create would inflict catastrophic destruction of coastal cities and substantial worldwide human casualties
along coastlines. If an asteroid of size 1 kilometer hit Earth, it would cause a dust cloud which would block out
sunlight for at least a year and lead to a deep worldwide winter, exhausting food supplies. The latter is what caused
the dinosaur extinction, as well as other major extinctions of smaller creatures in geologic time scales. The 200
meter asteroid hits, which are far more common than the 1 km+ hits, wouldn't show up much in geologic histories
on a global scale.
In the general press, too much emphasis is put on the big, 1 km size asteroids like the one that killed off the
dinosaurs, which are unlikely to hit Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions of years. Too little
coverage is given on the small asteroids which could cause terrible local destruction (e.g., to nearby coastal cities)
but little worldwide impact, and which probably hit once per few hundred years. Our best telescopes can hardly see
the 100 meter asteroids because they're so small, and many are dark.

The Tunguska, Siberia asteroid of 1908

An asteroid hit Tunguska, Siberia on June 30, 1908. It was a tiny asteroid, only about 30 to 60 meters across, i.e.,
difficult and unlikely to be detected by even the most modern ground-based telescope in existence today, given
their necessarily selective partial coverage of the sky, and between 10,000 and 100,000 tons in mass. The
Tunguska event was caused by a volatile rich asteroid which exploded due to heating during reentry.
Fortunately, the asteroid was just grazing the Earth and did not come straight down, causing a long streak in the
sky seen over many territories, and was packed with volatiles rather than nickel-iron metal. It exploded in the air
about 5 kilometers (3 miles, or 15,000 feet) above remote Tunguska. However, the energy released was equivalent
to a nuclear bomb. In fact, the explosion was greater than the Hiroshima or Nagasaki nuclear bombs.
The forest was flattened, out to about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the center. Below the explosion, trees were
incinerated, though some remained standing -- just like at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Trees were scorched on one
side out to 14 kilometers (9 miles) from ground zero. About 200 kilometers (120 miles) away, carpenters were
thrown off of a building from the shock wave, and shelves were emptied. At 100 kilometers, an eyewitness
reported "the whole northern part of the sky appeared to be covered with fire ... I felt great heat as if my shirt had
caught fire ... there was a .. mighty crash ... I was thrown onto the ground about [7 meters] from the porch ... A
hot wind, as from a cannon ... Many panes in the windows [were] blown out, and the iron hasp in the door of the
barn [was] broken."
The closest surviving observers on record were some reindeer herders asleep in their tents about 80 kilometers (50
miles) from ground zero. They were blown with their tents into the air, several of them losing consciousness
momentarily. They reported thick smoke and fog from the burning trees. About 1,500 reindeer were killed in the
At 500 kilometers (300 miles) observers reported "deafening bangs" and a fiery cloud on the horizon.
Large seismic vibrations were recorded 1000 km (600 miles) away, and an English weathermen 3600 km (2200
miles) away noted unusual air pressure waves.
However, that was a remote part of the Earth and the year was 1908. The stories kept coming in from that desolate
cold place. Due to the state of Russian science at the time, the remoteness of the area, and the harshness of the
temperature during most of the year, it took 19 years until a group of scientists went on an expedition to study that
remote site in 1927. What they found prompted additional expeditions, the best of which were conducted in the
1950s (when a nearby airport was built), led by those scientists of the previous expedition who had survived the
second world war.
What they found was a flattened forest with young saplings growing up between the fallen trees, and a layer of
carbonaceous dust, round glass melts, free metal granules and elements not normally found in the crust of the
Earth, adding evidence of a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid hit. (Alternatively, some think it was a comet captured
by the inner solar system whose outer volatiles had been burnt off eons ago, leaving just inner volatiles.)
It's theorized that by grazing the Earth's atmosphere, the volatiles under the surface of the asteroid heated up and
eventually caused the asteroid to explode. An asteroid would enter Earth's atmosphere much faster than a reentering spacecraft and would have practically no heat protection. The asteroid probably had plenty of hydrogen
and carbon in its interior, which was basically ignited all at once. It's thought that the asteroid pretty much
vaporized entirely into dust and gas in the air due to the high-heat explosion. No large chunks were found.
"[I]f the same object had exploded over New York City, the scorched area would have reached nearly to Newark,
New Jersey. Trees would have been felled beyond Newark... The man knocked off his porch could have been in
suburban Philadelphia. 'Deafening bangs' might have been heard in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C, and Montreal."

If instead it had been a nickel-iron asteroid and a little bit larger, and hit the ocean (which covers 70% of Earth's
surface), it could cause a tsunami wave giant enough to smash into numerous modern 20th century coastal cities
with no warning.
There aren't nearly as many remote areas in the world like Tunguska, Siberia, any more due to population growth
and industrialization.
Bolides: Meteor explosions and shockwaves in Earth's atmosphere
Many meteors can be detected and analyzed by sensitive sound equipment, due to their hypervelocity shock waves
as well as any explosion. For example, national defense departments monitor sound waves in order to detect things
like nuclear test explosions and any incoming missiles.
While a meteor also causes a bright flash of light locally, optical measurements from the ground or satellites may
be missed or incomplete, so in many cases it is better analyzed by the recorded acoustic signature. Bolides are
detected by satellites, and the visual and acoustic data can be put together for analysis.
Unfortunately, defense departments don't always wish to reveal the capabilities of their technology. However, nondefense entities do release information, such as the European Network (EN), the Canadian Network (CN) and the
Prairie Network (PN). Typical sizes of bolides have been estimated to range from 1.2 meters to 15 meters, with
corresponding masses of 3.5 tons to 80 tons.
Meteors usually explode in the upper atmosphere, and have severe shock waves due to their hypervelocity. Besides
bolides, there isn't much else which can come close to the acoustic profile of a nuclear bomb explosion, except a
large exploding volcano. It was important to develop this technology to analyze bolides not only for intelligence
purposes but also to prevent false alarms caused by bolides.
Most bolides have an explosive force in the kilotons range, but are high enough in the atmosphere to not cause
damage on Earth, just creating a very bright flash and a loud bang.
Data collected by one site, the Air Force Technical Applications Center at the Patrick Air Force Base in Florida,
between 1960 and 1972 was made public. It characterized 20 explosions on 10 different dates (some dates had
multiple hits). Most of the detections were within only about 5000 km (3000 miles) range. However, two bolides
delivered the energy of over one megaton of TNT, which is the same as a large nuclear warhead, and over 50 times
the power of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. (ReVelle et al., 1996)
Effects of impacts on Earth - different sizes, frequencies of impact
The press and Hollywood often focus on the impact of a large asteroid, say 1 km diameter. Those kinds of
catastrophic hits have dramatic impacts for all life on the planet, but are extremely rare and quite unlikely to occur
in the next few thousand years. Of much greater concern should be the Tunguska-size asteroids.
The population of asteroids of size 1000 meters (1 km) or larger which cross or closely approach Earth's orbit is
thought to be about 1,200. We know of many of these, which is why they make the press. They are big, so we
have seen some of them with telescopes. We know the orbits of many of them, and that they won't hit us in the
forseeable future, at least not for many hundreds of years. The only potential 1 km impactors would have to come
from the approximately 20% still undiscovered (as of 2012) 1 km class asteroids, or else a new comet coming
The Meteor Crater in Arizona, measuring about a kilometer in diameter, was caused by a nickel-iron rock only about
30 meters across, which isn't all that much larger than for the largest of the bolides we've seen over the past few
decades. That's a very small asteroid which we couldn't see from telescopes on Earth's surface until it's right above
Earth -- when it's much too late to do anything but duck for cover. The reason why the asteroid penetrated the

atmosphere and hit Arizona is because it was a nickel-iron asteroid, not a volatile rich asteroid, and it came almost
straight down rather than near a grazing angle.
This small size of asteroid is very difficult to detect.
At the other end of the spectrum are the 1 km asteroids. That kind of impact would wipe out life within proximity of
the impact site. However, more serious is how it would affect the whole world in indirect ways. The dust and/or
vapor cloud created by an impact to either the land or the ocean could be big enough to create a "nuclear winter"
like mini-ice age, and disrupt climatological wind patterns, adversely affecting major food-growing regions of the
world, thus straining world food supplies, prices, governments and civilization. However, such an impact is quite
unlikely over the next thousand years, at least.
The most damaging kind of impact would be an asteroid that hits the ocean, not the land. An asteroid hitting land
causes mainly localized damage. An asteroid hitting the ocean can cause a tsunami (i.e., huge wave) that would
inflict catastropic damage to coastal cities and assets to great distances. The Earth is covered 70% by oceans, so
an ocean impact is more likely.
Earth's atmosphere gives protection against the vast majority of small asteroids which hit. Asteroids hit the
atmosphere at typical speeds in excess of 10 km/sec -- an average of about 20 km/sec for asteroids whose entire
orbits reside within the inner solar system, with exact relative speed depending upon their angle of approach, and
with speeds over 50 km/sec common for small cometary objects making a pass from the outer solar system. At
this speed, they usually break up due to severe shock pressures, and burn up due to friction with the atmosphere.
Think about it -- 10 kilometers per second (6 miles per second) is awfully fast -- about 36,000 kilometers (22,000
miles) per hour.
For asteroids coming in at 20 km/sec, it's generally thought that to penetrate the atmosphere and cause major
damage by tsunami, an iron asteroid must be around 40 to 60 meters in diameter, and a stony asteroid 200 meters
in diameter (Hills, 1994, paper ref.). However, a stony asteroid 60 meters in diameter can cause significant damage
by airbursts (Hills and Goda, 1993, paper ref.).
The exact damage inflicted by an asteroid or comet depends upon a number of factors -- size, speed, composition
of object, and whether it hits land or ocean.
For a land impact, it can be said in general that an object of roughly 75 meters diameter can destroy a city, a 160
meter object can destroy a large urban area, a 350 meter object can destroy a small state, and a 700 meter object
can destroy a small country.
For an ocean impact, the destruction is much greater -- smaller objects can cause far more widespread damage.
The effects of an ocean impact are felt much further away than the effects of an airburst due to the more effective
propagation of water waves, and the fact that human populations and assets are largely concentrated in coastal
cities which historically became established due to water transport (i.e., shipping and trade) and businesses near
For example, the earthquake-induced tsunami in Chile in 1960 produced waves in Hawaii 10,600 km away of height
up to over 10 meters (30 feet), and up to 5 meters (15 feet) in Japan 17,000 km away with an average of 2
meters, causing heavy damages and loss of lives.
What happens with a tsunami is that when a deep water wave of, say, a third of a meter hits a continental shelf its
speed decreases but its height conversely rises. For example, the tsunami from the 1960 Chile earthquake created
a deep water wave of only 20 cm (8 inches) above sea level, but when it hit the shore it had risen to a height an
average of ten times its ocean size -- over 2 meters (6 feet), and in some places much higher. However, the size
varies depending upon the coastal features, and was higher in many places. Understand, this is not just a narrow
surfable wave that dies down when it approaches the shore, but is a wide body of water that grows into a wall that

smashes into the land. (When the wave hits the shallow coast it slows down, and the water of the deep ocean wave
behind it piles up on top to form a wall of water.)
The effects of an airburst are far more localized because the intensity of the phenomenon decreases with the
inverse square of the distance in a three-dimensional way, whereas the height of a water wave decreases only with
the inverse of the distance, i.e., to the first power, due to its circular, two-dimensional nature.
The damage caused by a tsunami is due not just by a heavy wall of water hitting things, but much more due to the
solid debris carried by up the powerful, churning deep water wave as it hits the continental shelf -- the solid debris
rams and batters anything in its way.
The 1998 earthquake-induced tsunami in Papua New Guinea that wiped out coastal villages and killed uncounted
thousands of people was only a few meters high. If an asteroid hit the ocean, we could see a tsunami wave 100
times higher.
It's not easy to determine the frequency of tsunamis in the world historically. Unusual debris has been found in
high places in many parts of the world which could be the result of a tsunami, though it's not easy to determine
what happened for sure and when, by the ordinary nature of the material. There has been little effort to date to
systematically assess the frequency and nature of tsunamis well before the 20th century. Recorded history by
civilizations along the Atlantic Ocean has not noted major tsunamis, though there wouldn t be many people
around to report it. Theres not much recorded history from many coastal regions in the world, and many long
coastlines were devoid of cities.
Searches for small tsunami in the geological record have mostly been started only in the 1990s. Of particular
interest are tsunami along the Atlantic coast, where earthquake-induced tsunami are rare, so that any detected
tsunami would probably be due to an asteroid. The results of these ongoing efforts will shed some light on the
frequency of asteroid hits into the oceans.
A mainstream scientific analysis currently estimates that an asteroid-induced tsunami exceeding 100 meters in
height along the entire coast probably occurs once every few thousand years, which slightly exceeds written history
in most of these ocean coastal regions. We've been living on the edge for a long time now. Such a 100 meter
tsunami would cause unprecedented damage to now-developed low lying areas all along the U.S. east coast, and
may totally submerge vast areas in Europe such as in Holland and Denmark. A 100 meter tsunami would travel
inland about 22 km (14 miles) and a 200 meter tsunami would travel inland about 55 km (34 miles) (Hills, 1994,
paper ref.).
In any case, it is clear that the cost of dealing with damage due to a hit by a sizeable asteroid causing even just a
small tsunami like the 1960 one could be far higher than it would cost to embark on a crash program of developing
space on a large enough scale using asteroidal materials which would in turn give us the infrastructure necessary
to detect and prevent impending Earth impacts -- a Rapid Deployment Force of rockets and a few people ready on
standby in space, to nudge the incoming object so that it misses Earth.
Contrary to movies and popular belief, we probably wouldn't want to blow it up as that would cause a lot of pieces
being thrown in unpredictable directions. Nudging its trajectory a little is probably the most reliable way to make it
miss Earth, and would be easier and cheaper, if we got to the asteroid long enough in advance.
Yet, we hardly even know what exists in our neighborhood, and a dedicated asteroid sentry system is needed. Of
course, such a sentry system would also discover economically attractive asteroids.
Many close encounters with Earth-approaching asteroids are found out AFTER the near-miss has already passed.

The Spaceguard Foundation

The Spaceguard Foundation is an international body officially set up by a convention in Rome and with a large
number of participating government officials and professionals from around the world. Their website gives updates
to the master worldwide list of asteroids which could potentially strike Earth, though it is technically oriented rather
than for the general public.
Besides asteroids in orbits near Earth's orbit, there are also small comets that pass through the inner solar system,
making one in-out double pass of Earth orbit every few centuries. New ones aren't going to show up in the
Spaceguard Foundation's catalog because their orbit doesn't reside in the inner solar system and they aren't
detected or known until they come down from the far reaches of the solar system, and we generally wouldn't know
about them until shortly before their arrival. (This is what the movie Deep Impact had hitting the Earth.)
Looking at the entire situation, one could conclude that an early warning system is of limited use unless it comes
with an interceptor system. The latter would require a government body (or else a high gamble by a private
initiative with prices negotiated shortly before impending disaster!). Despite all the threats, the government bodies
are not funding any asteroid intercept systems, and are providing only small amounts of funding for asteroid
searches and cataloging potentially threatening asteroids, plus a little bit of money for paper studies into methods
to deal with a threat.
Effects on satellites and space stations in low Earth orbit
When comet Shoemaker-Levy impacted Jupiter in July 1994, the event was watched by the Hubble Space
Telescope. When scientists saw the big splash of Jupiter's atmosphere rise up like a huge atmospheric wave, many
could not help but wonder what would happen to satellites and space stations in low Earth orbit if a large asteroid
or comet hit Earth's atmosphere, or even a large bolide.
With the increased data and analyses of asteroids, comets and bolides, it has been estimated that once per century
an asteroid, comet or bolide will hit Earth's atmosphere and cause a plume to rise about 1000 km up over an area
thousands of kilometers in diameter (Boslough et al., 1996, paper ref.). Countless satellites currently operate well
below 1000 kilometers up, as well as the International Space Station.
The effects on these satellites and space stations would be catastrophic if they hit the plume. They would be
travelling at 7 km/sec and could sustain physical damage. Unless they have substantial thrust capability, they
would probably be slowed down enough to fall down into the Earth's atmosphere and burn up ... and possibly crash
down onto Earth, nobody knows where.
Meteor showers
On occasion, there are meteor showers, e.g., when Earth passes through the tail of a comet. Many comets have
tails of significant debris stretching hundreds of millions of miles behind the comet. The chances of a satellite being
impacted by a meteor can increase by a factor up to about 10,000 times during the heaviest meteor shower, the
Leonids. The probabilities are vague because we just don't have enough data on the population density of sand and
small pebbles, which are sufficient to destroy a satellite at their impact speeds.
For example, a meteor from the Perseid Meteor Stream is thought to have killed the OLYMPUS telecommunications
platform in 1995.
The largest meteor shower is the Leonids. Of all the meteor showers chronicled over the last 1000 years, almost
half were unknowingly reporting the same cause - the Leonids, which are in turn debris from the comet
55P/Temple-Tuttle, which returns to the vicinity of Earth's orbit every 33 years. However, the severity of the meteor
shower is not always the same and is unpredictable.

When Earth passed through the tail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle in 1966, it was near the dawn of the space age when
there wasn't much manmade hardware up in space. However, photographic and radar data is available from this
hit. In fact, one measurement of meteors on November 17, 1966, reported 150,000 per hour (that's forty per
second) over a two hour period, which is by far the heaviest bombardment ever recorded.
Comet Tempel-Tuttle crossed Earth's orbit in February 1998 and the Earth passed through its tail in November. It
was expected to be a fantastic meteor shower but instead it was remarkably very light, producing a maximum of
only about 1,000 meteors per hour during a brief peak period of a couple of hours. Satellites were lucky in 1998,
as we were spared with a surprisingly very light meteor shower.
The occurance of a meteor shower may justify vacating humans from space stations which do not have a decent
level of shielding, which includes all those which exist today.
The only protection against such storms is good thick multilayer shielding, e.g., from asteroidal materials.
Planetary defense methods
There have been many scientific analyses on alternative ways to deal with a large object on a collision course with
The methods can be split into two categories -- destruction and deflection. (A third option is obvious -- turning it
into useful products.)
Destruction means assuredly breaking up the object into small enough pieces so that none can penetrate the
Earth's atmosphere. For example, if done by nuclear detonation, the dispersion of the fragments would mean that
most pieces would miss the Earth, but some pieces could still hit Earth. The further away the detonation, the more
dispersed the pieces by the time they arrive in Earth's vicinity. As you can see, blowing up the object is actually a
combination of destruction and deflection -- the dispersion is a sort of deflection. The problem with destruction is
the uncertainty of explosions -- success is risky.
Deflection means nudging the body so that it misses Earth. The further away the object is from Earth, the less we
need to nudge it because the change in its trajectory adds up over time.
For example, for an asteroid on a trajectory to hit the Earth in the middle (as seen from its approach), we would
need to deflect it a minimum of about 8000 km or 5000 miles (since Earth has a radius of 6400 km or 4000 miles)
in the direction perpendicular to its trajectory. If we were to land on the asteroid roughly 6 months (4300 hours)
before it would impact, then we would need to nudge it by accelerating it roughly 2 km/hour (or a little over 1
mile/hour) in a quick thrust, or about 4 km/hr (2.5 miles/hr) for a slow 6 month thrust. We'd probably want to
accelerate it even more just for the sake of safety, and would certainly want to rendevous with it further in advance
if possible. While a few km/hr speed seems small, keep in mind that we are moving mountains, not little cars.
The main problem is that we would probably have less than 6 months notice between detection time and impact,
especially if the object is a comet coming in from the outer solar system at 50 km/sec. While we have some
recently scaled up search programs, they give us very little coverage of the entire sky, and they don't detect small
objects until they are close. By small, we're still talking about city-smashing tsunami sized objects.
If we detect an object on an impact trajectory, then we will need to make a decision on a method of planetary
defense. The method chosen will depend upon the size of the object, how soon we can rendezvous with it, what the
object consists of, the rotation rate of the object, the object's geometry, and any fractures in the object. There
would be considerable uncertainty regarding the composition of the object without a thorough on-site visit. For
analysis purposes at this point in time, models have considered objects consisting primarily of ice, friable material,
gravel, hard rock and pure metal.

Most proposed methods have been rejected due to risk and economic and/or technical feasibility in the near future.
The remaining candidate methods seriously considered to date include:

Blowing it up by nuclear bomb -- This option is generally unfavored because it seems unlikely

that it would completely break up most objects into small enough pieces, or assuredly move all
pieces into a non-impact trajectory. It's still considered because it is economical and technically
feasible -- it might work, and it might be all we can do if given very short notice.
Nudging it by nuclear bomb -- This option explodes a nuclear bomb above the surface of a

volatile rich asteroid or comet to cause intense heat at the surface in order to create gas jets
which would thrust it away from Earth. Another nuclear nudge option is to chip off a piece by a
subsurface explosion along an existing natural fracture -- split it into two but so that both
dangerous pieces miss Earth in a straddling way (as in the movie Armageddon). The drawback to
both options is the risk that it would work. However, it very well might work, and it might be the
most reasonable option if given very short notice.
Nudging it by kinetic impact -- This option simply has a sizeable object strike the asteroid or

comet at high speed in order to nudge it, possibly with an explosion upon impact to enhance the
effect. This could work with small objects. The risk is that it will fragment the target and leave a
sizeable chunk on a collision course with Earth.
thrusting the object -- This option is attractive for very small objects whereby it would be

feasible to launch up the required fuel propellant with a very high performance engine, or for
small to medium sized objects known to be rich in water which we could extract and use as fuel
propellant in a thermal rocket. Nuclear rockets (which use a small nuclear reactor to heat any
kind of propellant) would be preferred for their simplicity and high performance. The advantage
of thrusting is that the object won't be fragmented and we have more control. The disadvantage
is that it won't handle very large objects in a short time frame.
pulling by gravity -- by hovering a massive enough object next to it. This has hit the popular

news circuits, as a "tractor beam".

... and many, many other techniques proposed ...

If an object were approaching Earth and we were given sufficient time, we could send out multiple missions using
different techniques so that if the first mission failed, a second mission could give it a shot. If an earlier mission
fragments the asteroid, then a later mission may need to deal with a fragment on a collision course with Earth. If
it's a large object then it could possibly fragment into multiple threats.
In all cases, the more advanced notice we have, the greater our chances for success. Time is a critical element
which can make all the difference in the world.
Telescope programs to detect near Earth objects could also use telescopes in orbit (above Earth's atmosphere) to
see in difficult places, such as near the horizon, and actually in all directions without regard to day or night side.
However, that's not in the government budgets.

External links:

This is an artist's conception of an impact. But that is a much bigger rock than anything that's hit Earth
in a very long time. Even the "dinosaur" killer was tiny compared to this illustration (more on that
The Earth has been getting hit by asteroids and comets for its whole life. The planets formed from
collisions of smaller objects, and even our water may have come largely from comets. Heavy
bombardments may have continued until as recently as 4 billion years ago, making it difficult for life to
get a foothold at all (the "Late Heavy Bombardment").
There are a lot more small rocks than big ones. So while Earth is constantly being "hit" -- accumulating
over 100 tons of matter ever day -- most of this is in the form of dust or tiny sand-grain sized meteors
that appear as shooting stars. By comparison, school bus-sized asteroids may hit every thousand years
or so, medium sized (say 300 meter) asteroids might be once every 50,000 years, and extinction level
events only every billion years. And those estimates are going down.
The Spaceguard Survey is an attempt to locate and track as many near-Earth objects (NEOs) as
possible. Each time astronomers identify an asteroid that isn't on a collision course with Earth, the
calculated odds of an impact go down a little bit. By the time the current survey is completed the
estimated odds of dying in an asteroid impact will have decreased by a factor of 10, from 1 in 70,000
to 1 in 700,000. Assuming, of course, that they don't find one that really is going to hit.
People tend to think that an "extinction level" asteroid or comet would look like the picture at the top
of the page. But in reality it could be very, very small compared to Earth. The "dino killer" is estimated
to have been between 5 and 15 kilometers across (3 to 10 miles). That's large compared to the rocks
in your backyard, buttiny compared to Earth (check out the image on the right to see just how small it
would be).
To lead to a global catastrophe, an asteroid or comet only has to be big enough to launch large
amounts of dust in to the atmosphere. That leads to the abrupt change in climate that wipes out
The odds of a major asteroid impact are very small. But the risk of you dying in an asteroid impact
might be higher than you think. Why? Because while the odds of an impact are small, the number of
people who would be killed is so high that the risk (impact odds times the number killed) isn't
negligible. Check out ourrisk game and see how those odds compare to other risks.
Apophis is an asteroid about 270 meters across (almost three football fields). In 2029 it will pass very
close to the Earth: within the orbits of our communication satellites. It won't hit; however there is a
slight chance that this close pass will shift its orbit exactly the right amount to cause it to hit Earth on a
second pass in 2036. The odds are small though: as of 2009 the odds are estimate at 1 in 250,000, but
that estimate will continue to be refined.


A breccia lunar rock sample collected from North Ray crater during the Apollo
16 mission.
Credit: NASA

New dating of lunar rocks add to a growing body of evidence that the Moon
and Earth were pelted by a flurry of large meteorites during a relatively brief
geologic time span about 3.9 billion years ago.
Known as the "Late Heavy Bombardment," or LHB, this period of heightened
meteorite activity would have had important implications for life on Earth,
since it coincides roughly with the time that scientists think the first primitive
bacteria appeared on our planet.
Researchers examined about 50 different melted rock samples collected by
astronauts during the Apollo missions in the late 1960s and 1970s. Using
radiometric dating techniques, they found that all but a few of the rocks were
between 3.8 and 4 billion years old. Earth itself is about 4.5 billion years old.
Furthermore, many of the samples displayed different chemical
"fingerprints," which suggests that they were formed from different
meteorites and lunar rocks.

"The evidence is clear that there was repeated bombardment by meteorites,"

said study team member Robert Duncan from Oregon State University.
The NASA-funded study will be published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica
Acta, the journal of the international Meteoritical Society.
Meteorites affected Earth as well
All you have to do is look at the Moon to see that it has been hit hard. All the
craters are a record of past impacts, and unless obliterated by a subsequent
larger impact, the craters remain relatively intact because the Moon has no
air to weather them and little internal activity like the volcanoes and
earthquakes that constantly remake our planet.
Any meteorite activity that affected the Moon probably affected Earth as
well, scientists say. But terrestrial evidence for the LHB is scarce.
"Unfortunately, we haven't found many very old rocks on Earth because our
planet's surface is constantly renewed by plate tectonics, coupled with
erosion," Duncan said.
In 2002, however researchers discovered in sedimentary rocks a version of
the element tungsten in amounts not normally found on Earth. The tungsten
is believed to be of extraterrestrial origin and was estimated to about 3.7
billion years old or older.
Implications for life
If the pockmarked surface of the Moon is any indication, early Earth was
pelted by a fairly steady stream of meteorites--some as big as 6 miles or
more across--for about 100 million years.
Any life that was present or developing on Earth at the time would have been
in constant peril of being blasted out of existence.
It's possible that life emerged only after the bombardments slackened, or if it
began earlier, it might have been disrupted or even reset by the intense hail
of meteorites.
"Life might have taken refuge if it burrowed down into cracks or crevices or
was at the bottom of the ocean," Duncan told "But Earth would
have been a miserable place to be alive. The Moon was bombarded pretty
uniformly by this process, and it's hard to imagine that life, if it was
established before this time [on Earth], could have survived through."
Another intriguing possibility, say Duncan and others, is that rather than
being vehicles of death and destruction, meteorites carried life, or molecules
important for the emergence of life, to Earth.

Origins still mysterious

The cause of the LHB remains shrouded in mystery, but scientists have come
up with creative explanations for what the triggering event might have been.
"We may have had a 10th and 11th planet that collided," Duncan said. "It's also
possible that the outward migration of Neptune scattered comets and small
planet bodies, inducing collisions in the asteroid belt. The close passing of a
neighboring star could have had a similar effect."
Other scientists have speculated that the disruptive hijinks of a fifth
terrestrial world called "Planet V" was responsible. This hypothetical planet is
speculated to have formed alongside Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars but
then swallowed up long ago by the Sun.
Before it was destroyed, however, Planet V might have perturbed the inner
asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter because of its highly eccentric orbit.
This could have caused a spike in the number of objects crossing the path of
Earth and the Moon, the theory goes.
Another wild idea is that roughly 4 billion years ago, the orbits of Jupiter and
Saturn entered into a synchronous resonance that threw off the orbits of the
other planets and planet embryos, called "planetesimals," creating a
temporary state of chaos within the inner solar system.
All of these scenarios are still highly speculative, however.

Earth Asteroid Bombardment Mystery Solved?

James Owen
for National Geographic News
September 15, 2005

Scientists turned planetary detectives say they may have solved a solar system whodunit:
What caused a cataclysmic asteroid assault on Earth and neighboring planets some 3.9
billion years ago?
Researchers suspect that the devastating bombardment, which lasted between 20 and 200 million years,
originated in the main asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.
The U.S.-led team based their conclusion on evidence found in the unhealed wounds of ancient asteroid
collisions left on the moon and the inner planets Mars, Mercury, and Venus.

Writing in tomorrow's issue of the journalScience, the scientists note that the intense period of cratermaking impacts, known as the late heavy bombardment, was likely caused by repositioning of the solar
system's giant outer planets.
Pockmarked Planets
During their study, the team investigated the most pockmarked celestial surfaces in the solar system,
such as those visible on the moon and Mars.
The researchers compared the number and size of craters on older terrains with newer surface regions,
such as the volcanic plains on Mars.
Younger planetary surfaces revealed impacts by relatively fewer, smaller projectiles. Craters in heavily
scarred, older regions closely matched the size range of objects in the main asteroid belt.
Renu Malhotra, a planetary sciences professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson, co-authored the
study. She says that the more recent impacts were likely caused by much smaller, less numerous nearEarth asteroids. Such impacts still occur today.
Malhotra notes that in the main asteroid belt small asteroids greatly outnumber large ones: There are
about ten times as many asteroids measuring 300 meters (1,000 feet) in diameter than those measuring 3
kilometers (2 miles).
Smaller Asteroids
The scientist says that while the surface of the Earth would once have shown similar evidence of a 3.9billion-year-old pummeling by asteroids, the scars have long since healed.

Earth Asteroid Bombardment Mystery Solved?

<< Back to Page 1 Page 2 of 2

"Geological activity erases craters and 'renews' surfaces," she said. "The moon, Mercury,
and Mars have large parts of their surfaces that have been unaltered by internal geological
processes for nearly four [billion] years. In contrast, Earth has been very active
Venus also presented a difficult subject for the team's investigations, because asteroids tend to fragment
in the planet's dense atmosphere.
"We were able to 'reconstruct' the original size of [Venus's] impactors by tracking the clusters of craters
[made by] the fragmented asteroids," Malhotra said.

The team used its crater findings to suggest that movement of the big outer planets Jupiter and Saturn
may have disturbed the main asteroid belt before the solar system became relatively stable, sending a
barrage of asteroids careering towards Earth.
The research represents an "extremely interesting" new lead in the search to explain an intense period of
bombardment of the inner planets, says Richard P. Nelson, an astronomy lecturer at Queen Mary,
University of London, England.
Space Debris
Another possible explanation, says Nelson, is that the projectiles were made up of rock-and-ice space
debris, which the outer planets Uranus and Neptune scattered into the solar system, "using their gravity
rather like a slingshot."
"Uranus and Neptune then moved outwards, replacing the material they'd scattered inwards," he said.
But Nelson believes the study team's theory is equally probable.
"The stuff in the asteroid belt is in a sense a failed planet, which was forced to fail by the other planets
because of their gravitational pull," he explained.
"If Jupiter had existed further out in the solar system and had migrated in towards the main asteroid belt,
then that might have disturbed the [asteroid] belt, causing the period of late heavy bombardment."
"Either or both of these possible scenarios could be correct," Nelson said.
Future Bombardment?
So what are the chances of the main asteroid belt unleashing itself at Earth in the future?
"Very, very unlikely," Nelson said. "The solar system is pretty stable and settled now. There's evidence
that during the late heavy bombardment it went through a period of instability when the main asteroid belt
was cleaning itself up after formation. I think that process is more or less finished now."
He adds that planetary stability doesn't mean the Earth is safe from future impacts from big asteroids.
"Large objects hit the Earth every 100,000 years, or something like that. But these are just isolated,
individual eventsthey're not part of a heavy bombardment process."
Free E-Mail News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories
and pictures (see sample).