Here Are the Ways Large Asteroids Can Kill You, Ranked

Image: Deep Impact

Large asteroids definitely present one of the most colorful 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.


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 percent of them hitting water (as around 70 percent of the Earth is covered in ocean), representing asteroids from 18 meters to 400 meters in diameter with densities of 3,100 kilograms per cubic meter. In case you’re wondering, 18 meters 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 percent of the casualties.
  • Skin-frying heat would cause around 30 percent.
  • Rushing tsunamis would cause around 20 percent.
  • The organ-rupturing shockwave would cause around 5 percent.
  • 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 percent. Unless of course you are that unfortunate one percent.

The team recently published all this in a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Also, the percentages in the press release don’t add up to 100. Just thought I should point that out.

If the asteroid strikes water, tsunamis are much more likely to do the killing, at around 60 to 80 percent 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 :)

[Geophysical Research Letters]


Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds



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