Friday, September 10, 2010

What Happens If An Asteroid Crashes 25 Miles South of Brooklyn

A while back those crazy kids out at Sandia National Labs ("Securing a Peaceful and Free World Through Technology") worked out a complex computer simulation of an asteroid 1.4 kilometers in diameter striking the Atlantic Ocean 25 miles south of Brooklyn.
 Here's what they said would happen: Five seconds after the asteroid crashes, an "impact plume" containing superheated water, earth, and other debris blankets major portions of Long Island. (The viewpoint shown above is from a location about 100 kilometers west of New York City looking east. Long Island trails off in the distance. Click on rendering to enlarge.)

Eleven seconds after impact, Long Island, Brooklyn and the New York shoreline are engulfed in debris and superheated steam. All of Metro New York and most of New England are soon vaporized. Secondary earthquakes and flooding could affect the U.S. all the way to California.

According to Sandia, an impact of this magnitude can be expected to occur on Earth about once every 300,000 years. These projectiles are called Near Earth Objects, or NEOs.

NASA is actually quite concerned about NEOs. Several teams of astronomers worldwide are surveying the sky to find them. Statistically, NASA says, you have about one chance in 40,000 of dying as a result of a collision.

Two small asteroids flew close by on September 8th. You can see all the asteroids and other NEOs that pass nearby here and here.

A company called Spaceworks Engineering Inc (SEI), with a grant from NASA, designed an approach to deflect an asteroid or comet before it hits the Earth. It's called Modular Asteroid Deflection Mission Ejector Node, or (and we're not joking), "MADMEN."

Top illustration by Don Davis, courtesy of NASA. Two renderings by Sandia National Labs.

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