UK: The UK is among the countries at risk from a devastating ‘asteroid tsunami’ that could kill thousands of people living near the coast, scientists have warned to coincide with Asteroid Day.
A team of researchers from the University of Southampton has developed a tool that predicts where known asteroids might land on Earth and what impact they could have if they did.
There are a million asteroids in the solar system, but only 13,000 have been discovered - and 500 of them so far have potential to strike the Earth.
If one were to strike land it would have potential to wipe out an entire country. An asteroid just 19 metres wide that landed in Russia injured 1,500 people, for example.
But that’s not the only risk - if asteroids land in the ocean they can trigger tsunamis that could destroy huge swathes of the coastline across the world.
The Southampton team - using a piece of software called ARMOR - has calculated that although the UK isn't in the firing line of any known asteroids it is at risk if there are impacts in the North Sea or Atlantic Ocean.
“The asteroid threat is real and can have disastrous consequences,” says researcher Clemens Rumpf and colleagues in a paper on the topic.
“When an asteroid strikes one of the biggest problems is a tsunami. Britain is an island with lots of coastline, and lots of people living there so it is a risk.”
The scientists hope the new software well help organisations like the United Nations create a plan of action in the event of an asteroid impact.
“It’s very easy to be flippant because of the Hollywood effect but it is a real risk," said Dr Hugh Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, at the University of Southampton, speaking to the Telegraph.
“This new software not only allows us to see where an impact is likely to happen but we also simulate what might happen if we tried to deflect it, such as by using a spacecraft to give it a slow push in space," he said.
The last large asteroid that hit Earth was the Tunguska impact in 1908. It slammed into the planet with the force of 1,000 atom bombs and obliterated an area of 830 square miles.
If it had fallen on London it would likely have killed everyone living within the M25.
The Southampton research was announced today to coincide with World Asteroid Day which was co-founded by Brian May - the Queen guitarist and astrophysicist, who has previously said that Earth-bound asteroids present such a threat that the human race is "living on borrowed time".
World Asteroid Day has received the backing of more than 100 scientists and aims to raise awareness of the importance of monitoring asteroids.