Remember Me?

 Straight Dope Message Board Remember Me?

#1
11-05-2010, 11:06 AM
 minor7flat5 Charter Member Join Date: Sep 2002 Location: Trenton, NJ Posts: 4,414
Just how bad would it be for this 1.2 mile long drumstick to strike Earth?

Saw this on Astronomy Picture of the Day:
Comet Hartley 2 Flyby

They say it's 2km long (1.2 mi).

How bad would that be if it hit our beautiful blue planet?

Would it wipe out a city? A state?
Would it destroy the world as we know it?
#2
11-05-2010, 11:22 AM
 DCnDC Member Join Date: Feb 2010 Location: The Dueling Grounds Posts: 10,081
I'm no expert by any means (but I'm sure one will be along shortly) but my research found the object that killed off the dinosaurs is estimated to be about 10 km or about 6.2 miles in diameter and killed off anywhere from 50-90% of the world's different species, so an object the size you describe probably wouldn't end life on Earth but I'd imagine it would be a pretty shitty day for everyone.
#3
11-05-2010, 11:32 AM
 KneadToKnow Voodoo Adult (Slight Return) Charter Member Join Date: Jul 2000 Location: Charlotte, NC, USA Posts: 24,866
I would have imagined that a comet would lose an awful lot of its mass before it struck the surface of the Earth.
#4
11-05-2010, 11:32 AM
 Squink Guest Join Date: Oct 2000 Location: Yes Posts: 20,327
Just eyeballing it, that's a volume of about 1 cubic kilometer, or 1 billion cubic meters.
That's equivalent to a sphere about 1240 meters in diameter.
Feeding a rocky asteroid of 1.2 km diameter travelling at 20 km/sec into the Solar System Collisions Calculator gives an impact energy of 102,909 megatons,
and a crater diameter of 15 kilometers.
#5
11-05-2010, 11:38 AM
 Whack-a-Mole Member Join Date: Apr 2000 Location: Chicago, IL USA Posts: 18,818
Meteor Crater in Arizona is about 4000 feet across and 570 feet deep and it was formed by a meteor about 50 meters across.

While there are differences in composition that may affect things I suspect a comet of this size would cause substantial damage wherever it hit.

It would easily wipe any city off the map.
#6
11-05-2010, 11:40 AM
 Darwin's Finch Guest Join Date: May 2001 Location: Eastern SF Bay Area Posts: 4,212
You can check out Purdue University's Earth Impact Effects Program to see how bad it would be. For comparison, here are the presumed results from the Chicxulub impact.
#7
11-05-2010, 11:41 AM
 Bill Door Charter Member Join Date: Nov 2003 Posts: 4,724
Quote:
 Originally Posted by KneadToKnow I would have imagined that a comet would lose an awful lot of its mass before it struck the surface of the Earth.
The problem is that mass brings its kinetic energy with it even if it ends up in the atmosphere. There's still going to be a shockwave from it.
#8
11-05-2010, 11:47 AM
 KneadToKnow Voodoo Adult (Slight Return) Charter Member Join Date: Jul 2000 Location: Charlotte, NC, USA Posts: 24,866
Yes, of course. I should've recognized that.
#9
11-05-2010, 12:29 PM
 Earl Snake-Hips Tucker Charter Member Join Date: Jul 1999 Location: SEC Posts: 13,698
I think it would be bad day no matter where it struck. If it hit in the middle of the Pacific, there would probably be tsunami wreaking havoc all along the Ring of Fire, which has quite a few major cities.
#10
11-05-2010, 12:47 PM
 Mr. Excellent Guest Join Date: Feb 2003 Location: Washington, DC Posts: 5,989
Quote:
 Originally Posted by Earl Snake-Hips Tucker I think it would be bad day no matter where it struck. If it hit in the middle of the Pacific, there would probably be tsunami wreaking havoc all along the Ring of Fire, which has quite a few major cities.
Right. I think the current thinking with regard to any major impact is that it would be far, far better for the thing to hit land, even smack-dab on top of a city, than it would be for the thing to hit ocean.
#11
11-05-2010, 12:56 PM
 minor7flat5 Charter Member Join Date: Sep 2002 Location: Trenton, NJ Posts: 4,414
Quote:
 Originally Posted by Darwin's Finch You can check out Purdue University's Earth Impact Effects Program to see how bad it would be. For comparison, here are the presumed results from the Chicxulub impact.
I tried using the Earth Impact Effects Program, but it generated a 404 error when I clicked the submit button. :-(
#12
11-05-2010, 01:06 PM
 DCnDC Member Join Date: Feb 2010 Location: The Dueling Grounds Posts: 10,081
Quote:
 Originally Posted by minor7flat5 I tried using the Earth Impact Effects Program, but it generated a 404 error when I clicked the submit button. :-(
I couldn't get it to work either.
#13
11-05-2010, 01:20 PM
 Alka Seltzer Guest Join Date: May 2009 Posts: 3,736
Quote:
 Originally Posted by Squink Just eyeballing it, that's a volume of about 1 cubic kilometer, or 1 billion cubic meters. That's equivalent to a sphere about 1240 meters in diameter. Feeding a rocky asteroid of 1.2 km diameter travelling at 20 km/sec into the Solar System Collisions Calculator gives an impact energy of 102,909 megatons, and a crater diameter of 15 kilometers.
The comet would be mostly ice and not rock, which reduces the damage somewhat. I used your other figures and fed them into an impact calculator, and got this set of results.

At a distance of 100km from the impact, the thermal radiation would set your clothes on fire. 20 seconds after impact you'd be hit by a major (but not extreme) eathquake. The air blast would probably be the biggest killer, 5 minutes after impact you'd be hit by a 350mph wind, which would level practically every building. 200km out, there would still be many casualties, but probably many survivors.

The energy released would be (very roughly) 1000 times as much as the largest nuclear weapon detonation. But I don't think this would be anywhere near an extinction level event.
#14
11-05-2010, 01:20 PM
 Darwin's Finch Guest Join Date: May 2001 Location: Eastern SF Bay Area Posts: 4,212
Huh. Works fine for me. This is what I get when I put in some basic parameters:

Distance from Impact: 161.00 km ( = 100.00 miles )
Projectile diameter: 1.93 km ( = 1.20 miles )
Projectile Density: 1000 kg/m3
Impact Velocity: 51.00 km per second ( = 31.70 miles per second )
Impact Angle: 45 degrees
Target Density: 2500 kg/m3
Target Type: Sedimentary Rock
(N.B.: the speed, angle, density, etc. were based on the suggested "typical" values for a comet, from the website. I picked a sedimentary rock impact site, and a distance of 100 miles away from the impact site just because.)

Energy:
Energy before atmospheric entry: 4.90 x 1021 Joules = 1.17 x 106 MegaTons TNT
The average interval between impacts of this size somewhere on Earth during the last 4 billion years is 5.2 x 106years

Major Global Changes:
The Earth is not strongly disturbed by the impact and loses negligible mass.
The impact does not make a noticeable change in the tilt of Earth's axis (< 5 hundreths of a degree).
The impact does not shift the Earth's orbit noticeably.

Crater Dimensions:
Transient Crater Diameter: 19.8 km ( = 12.3 miles )
Transient Crater Depth: 7 km ( = 4.35 miles )

Final Crater Diameter: 29.3 km ( = 18.2 miles )
Final Crater Depth: 818 meters ( = 2680 feet )
The crater formed is a complex crater.
The volume of the target melted or vaporized is 30.3 km3 = 7.26 miles3
Roughly half the melt remains in the crater, where its average thickness is 98.4 meters ( = 323 feet ).

Time for maximum radiation: 669 milliseconds after impact

Visible fireball radius: 31.7 km ( = 19.7 miles )
The fireball appears 44.8 times larger than the sun
Thermal Exposure: 8.18 x 107 Joules/m2
Radiant flux (relative to the sun): 186

Clothing ignites

Much of the body suffers third degree burns

Newspaper ignites

Plywood flames

Deciduous trees ignite

Grass ignites

Seismic Effects:
The major seismic shaking will arrive approximately 32.2 seconds after impact.
Richter Scale Magnitude: 8.7
Mercalli Scale Intensity at a distance of 161 km:

VII. Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.

VIII. Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture overturned.

Ejecta:
The ejecta will arrive approximately 3.07 minutes after the impact.
At your position there is a fine dusting of ejecta with occasional larger fragments
Average Ejecta Thickness: 32.8 cm ( = 12.9 inches )
Mean Fragment Diameter: 5.41 cm ( = 2.13 inches )

Air Blast:
The air blast will arrive approximately 8.13 minutes after impact.
Peak Overpressure: 277000 Pa = 2.77 bars = 39.4 psi
Max wind velocity: 356 m/s = 796 mph
Sound Intensity: 109 dB (May cause ear pain)
Damage Description:

Multistory wall-bearing buildings will collapse.

Wood frame buildings will almost completely collapse.

Multistory steel-framed office-type buildings will suffer extreme frame distortion, incipient collapse.

Highway truss bridges will collapse.

Glass windows will shatter.

Up to 90 percent of trees blown down; remainder stripped of branches and leaves.
--------------------------------

1,000 miles from the impact site, there is some seismic activity and a fine dusting of ejecta, but no significant thermal effects, and relatively minor blast wave effects (e.g., the sound intensity would be as "loud as heavy traffic", according to the site). So definitely a bad day for anyone at ground zero, but not a planet killer by any means.
#15
11-05-2010, 01:47 PM
 Squink Guest Join Date: Oct 2000 Location: Yes Posts: 20,327
Quote:
 Originally Posted by Alka Seltzer The comet would be mostly ice and not rock, which reduces the damage somewhat.
Pidcture looked to me like a couple of rocks with some ice deposits on them, and a region of dust between.
A bigger impact on the impact energy is the velocity of the object when it hits atmosphere. 20 Km/sec is sort of the standard value for space objects, but you'd get 4 times the energy if it was moving at 40 km/sec. Someone could probably look up the orbital parameters and give us a range of plausible impact velocities.
#16
11-05-2010, 03:01 PM
 Quartz Charter Member Join Date: Jan 2003 Location: Home of the haggis Posts: 27,331
There's a new (bandwidth heavy) impact calculator here.
#17
11-05-2010, 03:07 PM
 goldmund Guest Join Date: Dec 2009 Location: Boston Posts: 421
You guys are giving the object way too much mass in these simulations.

Figuring on the low end of the object's estimated size, I went with the 1200m diameter. Given its estimated mass that only works out to an average density of ~331.57 kg/m3. Now, I know I calculated that density for a 1200m spherical object and this object is not spherical, but the impact simulator pages seem to be expecting a spherical object, so I calculated the right density to enter to get an appropriate mass of the comet for the simulation.

According to the JPL's Small Body Database, 103P/Hartley's velocity relative to Earth during the recent close-approach on October 20th was around 11.88km/sec. What I did not account for was any acceleration due to the earth's gravity as the comet approaches. I'm not sure how significant this would be... anyone?

Anyway, depending on where it hit, it wouldn't be *that* bad. Say it was 100km offshore, and hit in 1000m deep ocean:

Quote:
 Your Inputs: Distance from Impact: 100.00 km ( = 62.10 miles ) Projectile diameter: 1.20 km ( = 0.74 miles ) Projectile Density: 353 kg/m3 Impact Velocity: 11.90 km per second ( = 7.38 miles per second ) Impact Angle: 45 degrees Target Density: 1000 kg/m3 Target Type: Liquid water of depth 1000.0 meters ( = 3280.0 feet ), over crystalline rock. Energy: Energy before atmospheric entry: 2.25 x 1019 Joules = 5.38 x 103 MegaTons TNT The average interval between impacts of this size somewhere on Earth during the last 4 billion years is 1.6 x 105years Major Global Changes: The Earth is not strongly disturbed by the impact and loses negligible mass. The impact does not make a noticeable change in the tilt of Earth's axis (< 5 hundreths of a degree). The impact does not shift the Earth's orbit noticeably. Crater Dimensions: What does this mean? The crater opened in the water has a diameter of 7.86 km ( = 4.88 miles ). For the crater formed in the seafloor: Transient Crater Diameter: 348 meters ( = 1140 feet ) Transient Crater Depth: 123 meters ( = 403 feet ) Final Crater Diameter: 435 meters ( = 1430 feet ) Final Crater Depth: 92.5 meters ( = 304 feet ) The crater formed is a simple crater The floor of the crater is underlain by a lens of broken rock debris (breccia) with a maximum thickness of 42.9 meters ( = 141 feet ). At this impact velocity ( < 12 km/s), little shock melting of the target occurs. Thermal Radiation: What does this mean? At this impact velocity ( < 15 km/s), little vaporization occurs; no fireball is created, therefore, there is no thermal radiation damage. Seismic Effects: What does this mean? The major seismic shaking will arrive approximately 20 seconds after impact. Richter Scale Magnitude: 4.5 Mercalli Scale Intensity at a distance of 100 km: I. Not felt except by a very few under especially favorable conditions. II. Felt only by a few persons at rest, especially on upper floors of buildings. Ejecta: What does this mean? Almost no solid ejecta reaches this site. Air Blast: What does this mean? The air blast will arrive approximately 5.05 minutes after impact. Peak Overpressure: 19500 Pa = 0.195 bars = 2.77 psi Max wind velocity: 42.6 m/s = 95.3 mph Sound Intensity: 86 dB (Loud as heavy traffic) Damage Description: Glass windows will shatter. About 30 percent of trees blown down; remainder have some branches and leaves blown off. Tsunami Wave: What does this mean? The impact-generated tsunami wave arrives approximately 17.3 minutes after impact. Tsunami wave amplitude is between: 21.6 meters ( = 70.9 feet) and 43.2 meters ( = 142.0 feet).
I'd be interested to see what effect gravity acceleration has, though. Next time it's scheduled to pass us, it's predicted to have a 18.66km/s relative velocity. Then things start catching on fire 100km away, you wind up with up to a 64m tall tsunami, etc.
#18
11-05-2010, 03:16 PM
 Anne Neville Guest Join Date: Jul 2004 Location: Pittsburgh Posts: 12,064
I've seen estimates that anything over 1 km in diameter impacting would have global effects. This is big enough to do that. We think there would be an impact winter. I'd guess the global effect might be on the scale of what the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa or the 1815 eruption of Tambora did. You might get some weird weather (such as snow and frost in June in places that normally don't get it), rising food prices possibly causing famines in some areas, that sort of thing.

The local effects would, of course, be much worse.
#19
11-05-2010, 04:12 PM
 Alka Seltzer Guest Join Date: May 2009 Posts: 3,736
Quote:
 Originally Posted by Squink Pidcture looked to me like a couple of rocks with some ice deposits on them, and a region of dust between.
The pictures are quite deceptive, what you're looking at is a pile of rubble, not a solid chunk of rock. Comets are mostly ices, although with a rocky crust. NASA definition of a comet is that it must be at least 85% ice. Halleys comet, for example, is estimated to be less dense than solid ice, as isn't solidly packed.

Quote:
 Originally Posted by Squink A bigger impact on the impact energy is the velocity of the object when it hits atmosphere. 20 Km/sec is sort of the standard value for space objects, but you'd get 4 times the energy if it was moving at 40 km/sec. Someone could probably look up the orbital parameters and give us a range of plausible impact velocities.
Yes, that would help pin it down. I can't find the figures now, but there is a well defined range of plausable velocities, due to orbital mechanics.

Quote:
 Originally Posted by Anne Neville I've seen estimates that anything over 1 km in diameter impacting would have global effects. This is big enough to do that. We think there would be an impact winter.
Yes, there would be climatic effects, but I'm not sure how serious they would be. The mass of the comet and the energy released would be a small fraction of of the chixulub impact. IIRC, the chixulub was particularly bad because it hit rocks rich in sulphur compounds, which led to a large release of sulphur dioxide.
#20
11-05-2010, 04:21 PM
 Alka Seltzer Guest Join Date: May 2009 Posts: 3,736
Quote:
 Originally Posted by minor7flat5 Would it wipe out a city? A state? Would it destroy the world as we know it?
Very roughly, something that size would kill a small country. A much smaller object could potentially be a city killer. The Tunguska impact in 1908 was about 30 megatonnes, only a single nuclear weapon test was more powerful (the impractical Tsar Bomba). The impactor was about 50-100m across.
#21
11-05-2010, 06:42 PM
 Ike Witt Charter Member Join Date: Aug 1999 Location: Lost in the mists of time Posts: 13,394
Quote:
 Originally Posted by Darwin's Finch 1,000 miles from the impact site, there is some seismic activity and a fine dusting of ejecta, but no significant thermal effects, and relatively minor blast wave effects (e.g., the sound intensity would be as "loud as heavy traffic", according to the site). So definitely a bad day for anyone at ground zero, but not a planet killer by any means.
One thing not addressed is the long term effects. That much ejecta is going to block out the Sun to some degree. The question is, how much average temperature lowered? I would guess that food production will be knocked out over a large area, but again, how much less sunlight will be hitting the planet? Is the resulting famine going to last an extended period?

Last edited by Ike Witt; 11-05-2010 at 06:43 PM.

 Bookmarks

 Thread Tools Display Modes Linear Mode

 Posting Rules You may not post new threads You may not post replies You may not post attachments You may not edit your posts BB code is On Smilies are On [IMG] code is Off HTML code is Off Forum Rules
 Forum Jump User Control Panel Private Messages Subscriptions Who's Online Search Forums Forums Home Main     About This Message Board     Comments on Cecil's Columns/Staff Reports     General Questions     Great Debates     Elections     Cafe Society     The Game Room     Thread Games     In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)     Mundane Pointless Stuff I Must Share (MPSIMS)     Marketplace     The BBQ Pit

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:18 PM.

 -- Straight Dope v3.7.3 -- Sultantheme's Responsive vB3-blue Contact Us - Straight Dope Homepage - Archive - Top