It’s no secret that many rock and stone formations fly past us and even land on our planet every day. That’s just normal, seeing how unpredictable the universe can be at times. But is there a reason to worry about one of these formations being big enough to endanger our existence? We’re sure you’ve thought about this at some point in your life.
Many sci-fi movies and TV shows enjoy exploring this type of scenario, but is there an actual possibility that this can occur? Well, in theory, you could argue that such an event could happen in the future. But things aren’t as simple as you might think, and there’s no reason to lose sleep over it. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting concept, and here’s what you need to know about it.
What Are Asteroids, and How Do We Distinguish Them?
Before we begin to explore this grim theory, it’s important to understand what we’re coming up against. After all, this is one of the most interesting topics when it comes to observing and learning about the skies above us. Not many of us know the difference between asteroids, meteors, and comets, right? So, let’s dive right in, shall we?
The most famous asteroid, if you can say such a thing, is the one that came falling from the sky and changing the world. It is responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs millions of years ago. At least that’s the most well-received theory today. But what are asteroids, and how do we distinguish them from other space objects?
Namely, they are celestial bodies that orbit the Sun. But unlike planets that do the same, their size is much smaller. Their shape isn’t round-like, although some might be like that, and that’s another differentiation from planets that are spheres. Furthermore, you can find millions of them flying around planets like Mars and Jupiter.
When it comes to distinguishing them from meteors and comets, it’s pretty simple. Namely, asteroids are rock-like objects, while comets are icy bodies. On the other hand, a meteor is the remains of an asteroid that enters Earth’s atmosphere. Hence, you can simply say it’s just debris of a much larger object.
What Happens If an Asteroid Hits Our Planet?
Thinking about this question isn’t the best way to fall asleep, even if total obliteration from above is not a very probable scenario. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t inform yourself what it would be like if a large enough asteroid hit our planet.
Our main issue with asteroids raining down from the sky isn’t only the force of the impact. The first thing we’d need to worry about is the dust and smoke that would go up in the atmosphere and block the sunlight.
That is the likeliest theory, but it doesn’t mean that it will come true. But, if it does, once the debris of this calamity goes up, the temperature would simply drop so much that most living things wouldn’t be able to survive. And not only you and your loveable pets but plants that surround us and allow us to breathe air. On the other hand, there’s the force of the impact, and it’s pretty horrifying too.
Namely, an asteroid the size of a house would devour a complete city. But the one the size of a twenty-story building would wipe an average-sized country from the face of the Earth. Of course, the sizes we’re talking about are the ones that remain after the asteroid passes through our atmosphere. This means that they would be even bigger before colliding with the field of gasses that surrounds our planet.
How Can We Protect Our Planet From This Threat?
All this talk about a possible scenario that would destroy life on Earth as we know it calls for some positive response. So, how can we protect ourselves? Our only way of defense is to first detect it and then divert its course. NASA and other organizations regularly scan the skies for threats that could endanger us.
Their actions include the following five steps:
- Detection — International space programs scan outer space, trying to detect harmful objects that could come our way. They can observe both clearly visible and somewhat hidden objects by using special telescopes and infrared imaging tools.
- Observing — If they find an asteroid that might appear to be coming our way, they then observe it. By analyzing various data, they can calculate the path of the potentially dangerous body and pave the way for the third step.
- Defining — With telescopes, we can understand the features of the object, such as its speed, rotation, structure, and so on. These features can then allow us to understand the threat the asteroid possesses.
- Course changing — By altering the gravitational force, crashing a spaceship directly into it, or deploying nuclear weapons, we can fend the asteroid from its course.
- Preparation — The fifth step in our planet’s defense plan is training and coordination. This means that organizations like NASA are always on the lookout for such a possibility and share pieces of information with each other.
Asteroid? Meteorite? Comets?
Although we’ve already talked about the difference between three types of space objects that fly around Earth and sometimes enter its atmosphere, we should mention what happens when they come in contact with our planet.
- A meteorite is a piece of a larger object. It appears when an asteroid or comet hits something and shatters. Hence, meteorites are smaller, and they don’t threaten us in reality. Interestingly enough, they’re regular visitors here on Earth, but they dissolve before they can hurt anyone. And when you see a fallen star, know that it’s a meteorite that’s burning and crumbling to pieces.
- On the other hand, comets are icy bodies that are also of small size. When they fly near the Sun, they release gasses, producing a similar spectacle as a falling star. You can see their tail as they fly around. And since their size isn’t that big, they’re also pretty harmless for our planet’s safety.