Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Likely Are You to Get Hit by a Meteor?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Likely Are You to Get Hit by a Meteor?

Article excerpt

A small blue object dropped from the sky in southern India over the weekend and crashed into the ground, shooting out debris that killed a bus driver standing nearby.

Local officials are conducting a chemical analysis of the object, which landed at an engineering college near the city of Vellore, to determine whether it is a meteorite, a chunk of a satellite, or other space debris.

A much bigger meteor, the size of a bus, caused havoc in 2013 when it shot in a fiery blaze over the Russian Urals city of Chelyabinsk, exploding several miles above the Earth with a blast that shattered windows, damaged buildings, and injured 1,600 people.

"My ears popped, the windows in our building are smashed, everyone says an airplane exploded. My cellphone stopped working for a while," said one witness to the Russian Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Incidents like these are rare, but they do raise the question: What are the chances of being struck by debris from a space rock that burns through the Earth's atmosphere and crashes to the ground - or blows up in mid-air?

After all, a massive asteroid or comet plummeted to Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs some 65.5 million years ago.

The chances of a catastrophic event are very low, though space debris strikes Earth every year, almost always with no damage. Only a handful of meteorites have even damaged property, and prior to this weekend, there were no records of a meteor impact ever killing a human.

Nonetheless, Tulane University environmental sciences professor Stephen A. Nelson has calculated the odds of getting killed by a meteorite at about 1 in 250,000.

According to Dr. Nelson's statistics, murder (1 in 185), tornado (1 in 60,000), flood (1 in 27,000), and airplane crash (1 in 30,000) are much more likely killers. By comparison, the chances of winning the PowerBall lottery are 1 in more than 195 million. …

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