asteroid, asteroid impact

Asteroid impacts rank highest on the UN’s list of potentially species-ending calamities. They’ve been the subject of countless movies and books, some of which are accurate depictions of what would happen, and some of which are not. Now, if you’ve ever been interested to see what would happen if different sizes of asteroid impact different areas of the globe, the internet has a tool for you!

Called “Asteroid Launcher,” the tool allows you to control three different aspects of your asteroid – the size, the speed, and the angle that it impacts Earth. It also lets you select when it lands. When you first open it up, for better or worse, it is pointed directly at Manhattan. From there, you can scan to any area of the world that you want and hit a “Launch Asteroid” button when you’ve picked the appropriate place, size, speed, and angle. 

Out of morbid curiosity, the author decided to see what would happen if he blasted his hometown with an asteroid with default settings. He was happy to find that he would probably have been one of the almost 15000 people that died in the 5.6-mile-wide crater the asteroid would have created. That sounds like a much better option than the other means of death the simulation describes.

Planetary Defense starts with finding the dangerous bodies in our solar system, as this UT video describes.

An 8.3-mile-wide fireball would have wiped out almost 1.9 million people, while nearly 150,000 would die from a shock wave. Over 614,000 would die from a wind blast the strength of an F5 tornado, which is apparently different than a shock wave, but luckily only a little over 2,000 people would die from the 7.1 magnitude Earthquake that the asteroid would cause. 

All told, the destruction in the general area of the world the author lives in would amount to a death toll of a little under three million people. Definitely not on the scale of what would happen if an asteroid directly hit Manhattan, but still not exactly the best day in humanity’s history. But what happens if the asteroid hits some of the 70% of the Earth that is covered in water?

Luckily, the author also lives near one of those large bodies of water known as the Great Lakes in North America. Launching a rock in their direction changes some of the parameters of the destruction outcome, such as shrinking the crater, etc. However, it doesn’t mention anything about a tsunami or similar water-based event that viewers of Deep Impact would come to expect.

Stopping a killer asteroid is arguably more important than finding it though – here’s UT’s explanation on how we would do that.

Moving the impact site over the ocean does give an estimation of a tsunami and an impressively high one at that. But unlike the other methods of destruction, it doesn’t detail how many people would be wiped out by that disaster, though it is arguably more dangerous than any other means of destruction listed in the simulation.

Overall, it’s an entertaining tool that reinforces the need for “planetary defense” as it has come to be known, and as we’ve detailed several times at UT before. Though it could do with some updates on some of its estimates and its understanding of where on the globe water is, it’s a highly entertaining look at what the impact of arguably one of the worst possible things that could happen to humanity would be.

Lead Image:Screenshot from the Asteroid Launch tool.
Credit – Asteroid Launcher


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