It’s time to look at another possible apocalypse! (This is actually the last in our series of likely apocalypses, so if you have any ideas for other things that could wipe us off the face the planet, let us know!) This month’s apocalypse is an asteroid or meteor strike. (Probably an asteroid.) Unlike some of the possibilities we’ve looked at, this one doesn’t give us much control. There aren’t a whole lot of things we can do at the moment to nudge an asteroid if it’s on a collision course with the planet. (And, you know, sending Ben Affleck to nuke an asteroid isn’t really the world’s best solution to inevitable doom and destruction.) One day we might be able to use the USS Enterprise to pull an asteroid away with its tractor beam, but at the moment, we have…uh, we have Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis, and some nukes.
Let’s face it: in the grand scheme of things, Earth is a sitting duck. I mean, it’s not exactly going anywhere. (Relative to some astronomical objects, that is. You know, like asteroids.) Compared to the much more mobile asteroids, meteors, and comets, Earth is…well, it’s stationary. Which means that it’s a pretty easy target. And we know that we’re not immune to space bombardment — there are impact craters all over the world; currently, the Earth Impact Database has 190 confirmed “impact structures.” Okay, so 190 doesn’t seem like a lot, considering how big the planet really is, but have you looked at the moon lately? Impact craters, ahoy!
Anyway, my point is, asteroids, meteorites, and other assorted hurtling space objects have the ability to wipe us all out. The possibility is there, and it pops up every now and again.
What would an apocalypse by an asteroid look like?
Well, it wouldn’t be pretty. Big boom, lots of destruction, ash and debris covering the sun, doom, despair, yada yada. I mean, the dinosaurs aren’t here to talk about what they went through, but I can’t imagine it was anything fun.
The immediate impact zone would be obliterated instantly, but the rest of the world would probably die a slow and painful death. Lack of sunlight would mean less plant growth, which would mean less food, which would mean starvation. The water supply would probably be cut off or contaminated to some extent. The Internet would be cut off. People would lament the loss of funny cat videos and Instagram photos of people’s lunches. People would riot (because people always riot; also, see: no Internet). People would die. People would eat each other when the food ran out (well, hopefully not, but who knows). People would turn into zombies (kidding).
Of course, that’s assuming it’s a large asteroid, one capable of triggering an extinction event similar to the K-T event (the one that killed off the dinosaurs). If were smaller, then it would look a bit different. So, in that case, maybe things on Earth would change just enough to make it difficult or impossible for humanity to survive. For example, maybe the soil changes just enough so that crops won’t grow. Or it would “just” wipe out a major city or two. Or, like the Tunguska event, there would be damage, but not mass destruction.
I suppose, in some ways, that anything is possible, depending on the size of the asteroid and where on the planet it actually hits.
How likely is an asteroid apocalypse?
Impacts from space objects/debris are actually fairly common, but most of those are pretty small and land in places where no one notices. However, large meteorites (objects that actually hit the planet are called meteorites), especially extinction-triggering ones like Apophis, are rare. So while I don’t think a full-on extinction event is likely, a smaller but still devastating impact could be.
What could we do to survive an asteroid apocalypse?
Avoiding a collision with an asteroid would be ideal, really. I mean, if nothing hits us, then it would be super easy to survive, right? (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
So, how do we avoid an asteroid impact? Send Bruce Willis and his scrappy team of drillers to nuke it out of orbit, obviously. (But in case our intrepid team is unavailable, I’m sure Elon Musk will come up with something.)
In all seriousness, I’m not exactly sure how we would truly be able to avoid an asteroid impact if one was on a collision course with Earth. NASA is currently working on technology that will deflect an asteroid, which would be pretty cool if it actually gets up and running, but as of now it’s still in development.
At the moment, all we can really do is keep an eye on the skies and track near-Earth objects as best as we can. Luckily, NASA has a project that does just that (you saw that one coming, didn’t you?) NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies has several teams who search for and track all the fun things that are zipping around out there in space. Hopefully they can give us enough notice of anything big enough that could kill us (and hopefully the DART program is fully operational when they do).
But if an asteroid hits us before we have the ability to redirect it, well, things could be bad. Our ability to survive would likely depend on the size of the asteroid that hits — if it’s a smaller asteroid, survival could depend solely on where it lands. If it hits a city, it would be super crappy to be living in that city, now wouldn’t it?