In the Line of Fire by Nick Howes
August 6, 2015

As Jasmin Evans alluded to in her superb blog post, the time of the meteor showers is upon us. The Earth is struck by on average 400,000 tons of space debris every year, ranging from particles the size of a grain of sand, up to incoming satellites, weighing tons.

Thankfully most of this is harmless material which lights up our sky as shooting stars, such as the Perseids in August, the remnants of the dust trail of Comet Swift Tuttle, but in some instances, larger objects do get through, and on average, every year, an almost Hiroshima-sized explosion can occur in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Mostly so high up that we barely detect them, but on occasion, as in 2013 with the famous Chelyabinsk event in Russia, they do make it to Earth with more devastating consequences. In that case, a meteorite only 17 metres wide hit the upper atmosphere, and disintegrated, creating a shockwave which blew in windows and doors across the city.

2013 with the famous Chelyabinsk event in Russia

Had the object been only 3 times larger, potentially 1.5 million people could have been killed. It is with this in mind that organisations like the B612 Foundation and the Emergency Asteroid Defence Project in Europe and The Spaceguard Centre in the UK are garnering support, via events like Asteroid Day, in an aim to get private and/or government funding to improve both detection and mitigation strategies.

If you want to see the kind of devastation these objects can cause, and have a bit of fun at the same time, try the Impact Calculator.

Nick is an astronomer, science writer and friend of Living Paintings.

You can find out about asteroids, meteorites and comets and feel tactile pictures of Asteroid Ida and Halley’s Comet in our Touch to See book, Ka-Boom: a guide to the Universe


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