Large asteroids definitely present one of the most colourful and chaotic possible apocalypses. Such an impact would cause quite a cinematic conclusion, combining a plague of wind, tsunamis, heat and other terrors into a horrible death-fest. Honestly, count me in.
Image: Deep Impact
Scientists decided that we don't know just how deadly asteroids really are, though, and needed to do an analysis. British scientist Clemens Rumpf has previously reasoned that the initial shockwave, rather than tsunamis, would be the biggest killer. This time around, he and his team crunched some numbers and ranked which of a giant impact's effects would inflict the most damage to us puny humans.
Measuring casualties must take a slew of factors into account, like the asteroid's size, the angle it strikes, and where it actually hits. The researchers generated 50,000 random large impacts across the globe, with around 70 per cent of them hitting water (as around 70 per cent of the Earth is covered in ocean), representing asteroids from 18m to 400m in diameter with densities of 3100kg per cubic metre. In case you're wondering, 18m is the smallest size to cause casualties, mainly from heat and wind blast.
The results varied based on the size on the asteroids. A larger impact saw further casualties from the effects of heat, for example. But on average:
- The incredible winds that could toss your body like a water balloon are most likely to get you, causing around 45 per cent of the casualties.
- Skin-frying heat would cause around 30 per cent.
- Rushing tsunamis would cause around 20 per cent.
- The organ-rupturing shockwave would cause around five per cent.
- Cratering, debris flying through the air like projectiles, and the resulting earthquake wouldn't make much of a difference, adding up to less than one per cent. Unless of course you are that unfortunate one per cent.
If the asteroid strikes water, tsunamis are much more likely to do the killing, at around 60 to 80 per cent of the casualties. The wind is still most likely to take you if the rock strikes land.
This information might sound terrifying, but the researchers point out that knowing the impact percentages is useful for things like evacuation planning and emergency strategies. Also, we honestly don't know that this is true, or how many people would really die if an asteroid hit, and how — we haven't been around for one of these awful strikes.
So, there you have it. And hey, at least we're in good hands :)