In films like Armageddon, Hollywood has tried (and failed) to take on the question of what would happen if a comet or asteroid plunged into the oceans on Earth, but what has scientific research actually determined it may look like?
America’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has posted a new video illustrating what could happen if an asteroid crashed into one of our oceans, and it’s fascinating.
Based on data collected by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Galen R. Gisler and John M. Patchett, referred to as the Deep Water Impact Ensemble Data Set, these simulations show asteroids of various sizes entering the water from different angles. It’s the scale and size of the aftermath that’s the truly stunning part.
In the full video, you can see a comparison between two variables: one shows impact with no airburst (when a 250-meter, or 820-foot, asteroid hits the ocean intact), and one with an airburst (when the same size asteroid breaks up into pieces before it hits). The dataset outlines more asteroid sizes.
The video simulation also compares different angles at which the asteroid could hit the body of water. A more oblique angle, the data shows, would be more likely to generate a tsunami.
Here’s the visualization in all its mesmerizing glory:
The video was submitted by the NCAR to the 2018 IEEE VIS SciVis Contest, a particularly niche and prestigious event dedicated to the visualization of deep water asteroid impacts held in Berlin in October. It was awarded third place with an honourable mention.
There’s very little chance of an asteroid striking Earth anytime soon — a roughly 5,000-foot (1.5 km) asteroid is only estimated to crash into the Earth approximately once every 1 million years. Researchers have spotted a roughly 3,600-foot asteroid (1.1 km) in space that could hit Earth in 860 years, but it has a 0.3 percent chance of doing so.
So, why do this at all? It’s all about being prepared.
According to the data set report by Gisler and Patchett, NASA is keeping a close eye on asteroids potentially dangerous to Earth. Asteroids that could potentially hit Earth would most likely fall in the ocean, the report adds, which could have serious ramifications for populated coastal areas.
“NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is keenly interested to know the lower size limit of dangerous asteroids, so as to focus resources on finding all larger objects that potentially threaten the earth,” reads the data set report.
“Since most of the planet’s surface is water, that is where asteroids will most likely impact,” it continues. “This observation has generated a serious debate over the last two decades on just how dangerous impact-induced waves or tsunamis are to populated shorelines.”
Essentially, the more we know about what an asteroid-generated tsunami looks like, the better prepared we can be — even if the chances of this happening anytime soon are very, very small.