New study ranks hazardous asteroid effects from least to most destructive

Published: Thursday, 20 April 2017 08:52

It’s probably the most extreme business impact scenario imaginable, but what would be the most damaging effects of an asteroid strike? A new scientific study has the answer…

The study explored seven effects associated with asteroid impacts: heat; pressure shock waves; flying debris; tsunamis; wind blasts; seismic shaking and cratering; and estimated their lethality.

Overall, wind blasts and shock waves were likely to claim the most casualties. In experimental scenarios, these two effects accounted for more than 60 percent of lives lost. Shock waves arise from a spike in atmospheric pressure and can rupture internal organs, while wind blasts carry enough power to flatten forests.

"This is the first study that looks at all seven impact effects generated by hazardous asteroids and estimates which are, in terms of human loss, most severe," said Clemens Rumpf, a senior research assistant at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, and lead author of the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Rumpf said his findings, which he plans to present at the 2017 International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference in Tokyo, Japan, could help hazard mitigation groups better prepare for asteroid threats because it details which impact effects are most dominant, which are less severe and where resources should be allocated.

Earth is struck by an asteroid more than 60m wide approximately once every 1500 years, whereas an asteroid more than 400m wide is likely to strike the planet every 100,000 years.

"The likelihood of an asteroid impact is really low," said Rumpf. "But the consequences can be unimaginable."