The end is nigh! Well, someone is going to be yelling something similar this week. If you haven’t heard, a giant asteroid will buzz Earth on February 15. The asteroid, which has the catchy moniker 2012 DA14, is substantial—approximately 146 feet long and 143,000 tons. Whoa Nelly!
According to the eggheads at NASA, 2012 DA14 (seriously, we’re already tired of typing this name) will pass 17,200 miles above the Earth. Needless to say, Earth got lucky, as a similarly sized asteroid apparently leveled hundreds of square miles of Siberian forest back in 1908.
Talking about the world’s close brush with death got us thinking about how many asteroids and meteorites strike the Earth each year, and what the chances are that our San Mateo houses would be flattened. So, doing what Movoto is apt to do, we locked ourselves away to figure it out.
What’d We find?
That depends on a lot of stuff, and what you think of as an asteroid. Being specific, asteroids are small solar system bodies in orbit around the Sun. An asteroid impact is rare–like once a year for a small one.
In fact, you are more likely to be struck by a meteorite. A meteorite is a meteoroid (a solid piece of debris from outer space) that survives impact with Earth.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, 500 meteorites strike the earth Each year. Because meteorites are more common, as these things go anyway, we looked at the chances of your house being struck by a meteorite.
We found that your house has a 1 in 2,196,267,379,587 (that’s trillion, fyi) chance of being struck by a meteorite. To put this in comparison, you’re more likely to win the Mega Millions lottery jackpot, which has odds of 1 in 135,145,920.
Of course, this is for one meteorite strike. What is the probability of your house being struck in a given year (that’s 500 meteorites strikes in 365 days)? That would be 1 in 4,392,536,564.
In other words, don’t plan on it happening.
How’d We Do It?
This was a numbers-heavy article for your fave novelty bloggers, so we’ll take it slow.
The Earth’s surface area is about 583,052,870 square miles, or 5,490,000,000,000,000 square feet. We divided this by the typical American home, 2,500 square feet.
So if the entire world was covered with American-size homes, there would be a 1 in 2,196,267,379,587 chance of being struck by a meteorite.
We should also note that the probability of being struck by an object changes depending on how you divide up the Earth’s surface area.
Theoretically, you could use a larger number than 2,500 square feet, which would increase the chances of being struck. Or, you could decrease the number and decrease the likelihood of a meteorite dropping on your head.
What you should take from all this is the chance of being struck by an asteroid, or meteorite, is so small that you don’t have to worry about it. And if you are worried about it, rent Armageddon and watch some explosions. You’ll feel better, we promise.
Editor’s Note: There can be confusion between what is a meteoroid, what is an asteroid, and what is a meteorite. The difference is location and size. An asteroid is the name for a large object in space and meteoroid is the name for a smaller object. We recognize the point at which a meteoroid becomes an asteroid is debatable, so we decided to go with Wikipedia’s definition of an asteroid.
Additionally, once an asteroid enters an atmosphere it becomes a meteor. Then if it hits the ground it will become a meteorite. In this sense, an asteroid can become a meteorite. For simplicity, we used the term “asteroid” throughout the piece.
Thank you to Deborah of EarthSky.org for helping us flush out the details.
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