Deep space asteroids could be way more fragile than scientists first thought

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May 23, 2016

It’s been the subject of more than a few disaster movies, but it turns out a large-scale asteroid strike might not be quite as disastrous as we first thought.

New Scientist reports a new study by Desireé Cotto-Figueroa of Arizona State University in Tempe that looked into the makeup and brittleness of meteorites and asteroids. They eventually learned that space rocks could be much more brittle than originally thought, meaning they’d be more likely to burn up in the atmosphere in the event of an Earth strike. The study compared fragments from meteorites with regular ol’ Earth rocks, to see if it’d be accurate to use Earth rocks when developing asteroid-deflection protocols. 

According to the report, the meteorite fragments were as brittle as concrete, and they extrapolated from that data to determine how likely a larger meteorite with that make up would be to break up in the atmosphere. If the data holds up, it means a big asteroid would probably just make a streak across the sky, as opposed to a flaming, humanity-destroying hole.

“We do see a lot more fireballs than craters, and in fact only the iron meteorites – the strong, dense ones – survive to hit the ground and make craters smaller than a few kilometres,”  study co-author Erik Asphaug told New Scientist. “That means we can explain why meteors that are the size of a car break apart so high up in the atmosphere. They are weak, about the strength of cruddy sandstone.”

Of course, that means a big chunk of iron could still cause some chaos, but this discovery could help reduce the odds that we’ll all die in a fiery explosion. The more you know.

(Via New Scientist)