Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them before They Find Us

By Donald K. Yeomans | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Near-Earth Objects as Threats to Earth

What happens if a big asteroid hits Earth? Judging from
realistic simulations involving a sledgehammer and a common
laboratory frog, we can assume it will be pretty bad.
—Dave Barry


A Hard Rain Is Falling

More than one hundred tons of near-Earth object material pummels the Earth daily. Fortunately, the vast majority of this material is dust and pebbles that are too small to survive passage through our thin atmosphere.1 Just as hammer blows to a brick and the resulting fragments produce far more small particles than large ones, the continued collisions of near-Earth objects with other asteroids in interplanetary space over millions of years produces far more small ones than large ones. For example, there are thought to be about a thousand nearEarth objects larger than one kilometer in diameter but more than one million near-Earth objects larger than thirty meters.

Many of the interplanetary dust and sand-sized particles that rain down upon the Earth daily result in the harmless meteors, or shooting stars, that are so enjoyable to watch in the night sky. Occasionally

1 If the Earth were reduced in size to that of an apple, the thickness of almost our entire atmosphere would be that of the apple's skin. It is only this thin, fragile atmosphere that keeps Earth habitable.

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