What would an asteroid impact be like: 1,000-mph winds and powerful shock waves deadliest effects

The end of the world wouldn’t be pretty if a big asteroid slammed into the Earth.

The deadliest effects would be ferocious winds of up to 1,000 mph and intense shock waves.

A new scientific study shows that if a big asteroid — like Asteroid 2014 JO25 yesterday — slammed into the Earth, ferocious winds of up to 1,000 mph and intense shock waves would kill the most people.

This is the first study that looks at all seven impact effects — heat, pressure shock waves, flying debris, tsunamis, wind blasts, seismic shaking and cratering — generated by hazardous asteroids and estimates which are, in terms of human loss, the most severe.

asteroid impact deadliest effect, asteroid impact, What are the deadliest impacts of an asteroid impact?
What are the deadliest impacts of an asteroid impact? Photo: Don Davis, NASA

The winds and the shock waves would be the worst. In fact, these two effects would account for more than 60% of lives lost. Shock waves from a spike in atmospheric pressure would rupture internal organs, while wind blasts would hurl human bodies and flatten forests.

Land-based impacts would be far more dangerous and deadly than asteroids that landed in oceans. Overall, tsunamis would account for 20% of lives lost.

asteroid impact deadliest effect, asteroid impact, What are the deadliest impacts of an asteroid impact?
The trace left in the sky by the giant fireball that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, destroying buildings and injuring man residents. Photo: Alex Alishevskikh

The study, which used computer models to batter the globe with 50,000 artificial asteroids ranging from 49 to 1,312 feet across. Larger asteroids would also be expected to cause long-lasting environmental changes, such as dust deposition in the atmosphere and subsequent dimming of sunlight. This is what may have happened to the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago, thanks to a six-mile wide asteroid.

asteroid impact deadliest effect, asteroid impact, What are the deadliest impacts of an asteroid impact?
The following chart shows reported fireball events for which geographic location data are provided. Each event’s calculated total impact energy is indicated by its relative size and by a color. via JPL / NASA

Fortunately, asteroid impacts are very rare: An asteroid that’s more than 1,300 feet in size, like the one that zipped by the Earth on Wednesday, is likely to strike the planet only once every 100,000 years, according to Rumpf.

The likelihood of an asteroid impact is really low, but the consequences can be unimaginable.

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