Asteroids pelt the Earth on a daily basis, throwing hundreds of tonnes of space debris into the planet’s atmosphere. Roughly once every 2,000 years or so, an asteroid the size of a football field strikes, causing widespread destruction. According to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), between April 15, 1988, and February 1, 2019, at least 771 significant meteor impacts were recorded worldwide. Civilisation-threatening asteroids are much rarer, however, since only they strike every few million years.
But major killer asteroids do lurk in the dark depths of space and the potential impact from of them could be cataclysmic.
But what exactly would happen if one of these killer asteroids were to strike the Earth tomorrow? Just how widespread would the destruction be?
The Discovery Channel answered this exact question by simulating an asteroid impact from a 310-mile-wide (500km) space rock.
The terrifying “Large Asteroid Impact Simulation” video charts the world’s fiery demise from the moment of impact.
The video shows what would happen if the asteroid struck the planet in the Pacific Ocean, just to the east of Southeast Asia
As the asteroid passes over the dayside of Earth in the video, it’s colossal size blots out the Sun and casts a shadow over entire cities.
While the asteroid barrels towards the ground, the air around it ignites from the force of friction.
The doomsday rock then crash-lands in the Pacific where the force of impact instantly peels away more than six miles (10km) of the Earth’s crust.
The resulting shockwave throws up a tremendous tidal wave in all directions from where the asteroid landed.
Columns of fire and smoke are seen rising in the video, spreading out in an ever-growing radius from the asteroid.
Debris from the force of impact is thrust upwards into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and a firestorm of death and destruction engulfs the planet.
In the simulation video, nothing stands in the way of the asteroid’s fiery shockwave.
Day becomes night, life turns to death and the surface becomes uninhabitable.
One by one, the video shows entire countries crumbling and peeling away with the planet’s rapidly deteriorating crust.
The shockwave, which at this point is spreading around the world at hypersonic speeds, vaporises everything before it.
Land which once was green and teeming with life is seen turned into an ocean of fire and rubble.
Of all the deadly asteroids, which struck the Earth in its violent cosmic past, the dinosaur killer Chicxulub asteroid was the most devastating of them all.
The giant asteroid, which struck the Earth some 65 to 66 million years ago, is believed to have only been around 5.5 miles (9km) in diameter.
But a 2017 study published in the journal Nature found the asteroid hit just the right spot in modern-day Mexico, for it to wipe out the dinosaurs.
The study reads: “Recent studies have shown that this impact at the Yucatan Peninsula heated the hydrocarbon and sulfur in these rocks, forming stratospheric soot and sulfate aerosols and causing extreme global cooling and drought.
“These events triggered a mass extinction, including dinosaurs, and led to the subsequent macroevolution of mammals.”
Thankfully, according to US space agency NASA, there are very few asteroids hiding in the depths of space, which pose any real threat to Earth.
NASA said: “With increasing regularity, scientists are discovering asteroids and comets with unusual orbits, ones that take them close to Earth and the Sun.
“Very few of these bodies are potential hazards to Earth, but the more we know and understand about them, the better prepared we will be to take appropriate measures if one is heading our way.
“Knowing the size, shape, mass, composition and structure of these objects will help determine the best way to divert a space rock found to be on an Earth-threatening path.”