The prevailing opinion is that around 66 million years ago the dinosaurs were in essence wiped out from the planet due to an impact event. In order for humans to suffer the same fate, an asteroid with a diameter of over 1km would need to hit the Earth. However, smaller asteroids – while not resulting in extinction – do still provide some danger.
A one in 7000 chance of collision
One smaller asteroid – XB 2018, which was discovered last year – has now been promoted to the fifth most dangerous Near Earth Object (NEO). However, there’s no need to call Bruce Willis just yet, as the asteroid only has a one in 7000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2092; the ravages of your lifestyle or climate change are more likely to finish you off before then. Not only this, but the asteroid isn’t large enough to cause an extinction level event, reducing the likelihood further that you will be affected.
Impact events in recent history
In the last century or so, there have been some recorded events of asteroids hitting the Earth. The Tunguska event in Siberia in 1908 is widely accepted to be an impact event. It is suggested that a cosmic body was responsible for the destruction of 80 million trees over 820 square miles; luckily no human casualties were recorded.
Another example is the Chelyabinsk event which occurred in 2013, again in Russia – perhaps proving that the universe is on the USA’s side. While no people were directly harmed by the meteor, the blast of the asteroid was said to be stronger than that of a nuclear bomb and as such the shockwave it produced resulted in around 1,200 people being injured, mainly via broken glass.
Extinction level event inevitable
Luckily for us extinction level events don’t occur very often, though the European Space Agency does list some non-zero probability impacts of this size.
In addition, Joseph Nuth, an award winning scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Center, indicated that an extinction-level collision is inevitable, and what makes it particularly worrying is that there isn’t a lot that can be done at the moment. In contrast, NASA indicated that at least for the next century, this isn’t a concern.
Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.