An asteroid simulator shows the devastation that would be inflicted on your area if a giant space rock crashed into it, providing some insights into whether you would survive.
Created by web game developer Neal Agarwal, the Asteroid Launcher site allows users to simulate an impact on a given location anywhere on Earth.
The chances of a huge, potentially dangerous asteroid striking our planet anytime soon are tiny. But over long periods, the odds that a collision will occur are not negligible. Such an event would have devastating consequences for life on Earth, with the potential to cause a mass extinction event.
Given the potentially catastrophic effects of an impact, scientists are continuously monitoring the sky to identify and track asteroids and comets that pass through Earth’s cosmic neighborhood.
Researchers are also trying to develop techniques that may be able to protect Earth against a scenario like this. One notable example of these efforts is NASA’s DART test, which in September successfully demonstrated the feasibility of asteroid-deflecting technology for the first time.
Agarwal told Newsweek that the creation of his asteroid impact simulator was inspired by Hollywood science fiction films.
“I’ve always loved watching disaster movies like Deep Impact and imagining disaster scenarios,” Agarwal said. “So I wanted to make an online simulator that could let anyone dream up their own asteroid impact scenarios.
“This is for anyone who wants to learn more about asteroid impacts and dream up their own scenarios,” he continued. “There are also lots of people who just enjoy launching big rocks at Earth, and that’s cool too.”
The simulation is based on research conducted by Gareth Collins, a professor of planetary science at Imperial College London, and Clemens Rumpf, a NASA aerospace engineer who works on risk assessment for an asteroid impact.
“The model should give a good approximation of what would really happen,” Agarwal said.
With the simulator, users first choose a location on the world map that will be the unfortunate target of their hypothetical impact. Then they can choose the type of impactor, like asteroids made of various materials, such as iron, stone, carbon and gold, or a comet.
Finally, it is possible to modify three key parameters: the diameter of the object, its impact speed and the angle at which it will strike the given location.
Once users click the “launch” button, the simulator will show the various potential impacts of the collision in that location—including information about the resulting crater, fireball, shock wave, winds and earthquakes, accompanied by eye-catching animations.
“I really wanted this simulator to be filled with animations and take advantage of the capabilities of the modern web,” Agarwal said. “Other online simulators are mostly text-based, and I feel like the animations really help put things in perspective.”
To give an idea of how the tool works, Newsweek ran a simulation using an iron asteroid measuring 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) across, an impact speed of 17 kilometers per second (about 38,000 miles per hour) and an impact angle of 45 degrees—and landing smack-bang in the middle of Manhattan. (The latter two figures reflect research indicating that 17 kilometers per second is an average asteroid impact speed, while 45 degrees is the most provable impact angle.)
Asteroid or comet impacts of this size and larger would be capable of catastrophic damage on a regional or even continental scale. They also would have long-term effects on the global climate, which would hugely disrupt human civilization and perhaps even result in the extinction of our species.
On average, an asteroid measuring roughly 1 kilometer in diameter strikes Earth in intervals of a few hundred thousand years or so, although it is important to note that such collisions do not occur at regularly spaced intervals.
While Agarwal’s site does not simulate the long-term global effects of an impact, it does show the more immediate consequences.
In the case of the aforementioned simulation, the 1-kilometer-wide asteroid striking Manhattan would release energy equivalent to the explosion of 100 gigatons of TNT, which is in the same ballpark as the amount of energy the world consumes in a year, according to the simulator.
The impact would also produce a crater measuring around 11 miles across and more than 2,300 feet deep, data from the simulator shows.
Aside from this, the impact would produce a huge fireball measuring around 19 miles wide, causing devastation across a much larger area. A fireball is a plume cloud of vaporized rock and heated air that engulfs the crater and the site closest to the impact.
An estimated 10.4 million people would die from the fireball alone, and clothes would catch fire at a distance of up to roughly 90 miles from the impact. Trees would catch fire within a distance of about 162 miles.
The asteroid collision would also create an unfathomably loud shock wave measuring 243 decibels and capable of damaging lungs within 55 miles and rupturing eardrums within 72 miles. It would cause homes to collapse within 167 miles.
The blast would also produce winds much faster and more powerful than those seen in the strongest hurricanes and tornadoes, knocking down trees up to about 80 miles away, data from the simulator shows.
Finally, the impact would produce a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that might be felt up to roughly 230 miles away.
To date, scientists have discovered more than 30,000 near-Earth objects (NEOs). This term is used to refer to any cosmic body whose orbit comes close to that of our planet, astronomically speaking.
The vast majority of these NEOs are asteroids—most of which are small—although more than a hundred comets are also included in this category.
Some NEOs are classified as “potentially hazardous”—a designation given to those with orbits that come within 4.6 million miles of Earth’s path around the sun. Also, these NEOs are estimated to measure more than 140 meters (around 460 feet) in diameter.
Potentially hazardous objects are large enough to produce significant damage on at least a regional scale in the event of an impact. But despite the name, none of the known potentially hazardous NEOs have any realistic chance of colliding with the Earth over the next century or so, at least.
“The potentially hazardous designation simply means over many centuries and millennia the asteroid’s orbit may evolve into one that has a chance of impacting Earth. We do not assess these long-term, many-century possibilities of impact,” Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, previously told Newsweek.
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