See also: The 'Impact Earth!' Asteroid Impact Catastrophe Simulator has Been Updated
Move over global warming, this could be the planet's biggest "heads-up" of all - researchers at the University of Southampton recently unveiled a software modelling program that is able to evaluate the potential catastrophic consequences of a small asteroid impacting the earth - and it is showing that the possibility is not that far off the map.
Called NEOimpactor, the software has been specifically designed to model asteroid impacts, allowing scientists to gauge the impact of "small" asteroids - "small" meaning under one kilometre in diameter. Preliminary results point toward the ten countries at greatest risk are China, Indonesia, India, Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Nigeria.
"The threat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid is increasingly being accepted as the single greatest natural disaster hazard faced by humanity," said Nick Bailey, one of the researchers developing the software.
"The consequences for human populations and infrastructure as a result of an impact are enormous," continues Bailey. "Nearly one hundred years ago a remote region near the Tunguska River witnessed the largest asteroid impact event in living memory when a relatively small object (approximately 50 metres in diameter) exploded in mid-air."
According to Wikipedia: "Asteroids with a 1 kilometer diameter hit the Earth a few times in each million year interval. Large collisions with 5 kilometer objects happen approximately once every ten million years. In 1908, the Tunguska explosion, equivalent to 20 megatons of TNT, was caused by an ~20 m object. Small collisions, equivalent to a thousand tons of TNT, occur a few times each month."
Since 1998, a catalogue of all near-earth asteroids (NEA) larger than one kilometre has been compiled by the international Spaceguard survey - however, it is smaller, undetected and more frequently-occurring asteroids under one kilometre in diameter which pose an equally-great risk.
Bailey emphasized that the aim was to study the effect of these smaller asteroids on global economies, infrastructure and human casualties and how to begin tackling it. "Our results highlight those countries that face the greatest risk from this most global of natural hazards and thus indicate which nations need to be involved in mitigating the threat." Now if that doesn't get everyone to sit down and cooperate, we don't know what will.
Image credit: NASA