A study aimed at sorting out the effects of a catastrophic asteroid impact found that violent winds and pressure shock waves would be the biggest killers, accounting for more than 60 percent of the lives lost in simulated scenarios.
Overall, wind blasts and shock waves were likely to claim the most casualties, according to the study.
If a big asteroid - like the one whizzing by on Wednesday - slammed into the Earth, ferocious winds of up to 1,000 miles per hour and intense shock waves would kill the most people, according to a study published Wednesday.
For the study, the researchers used models to barrage the Earth with 50,000 artificial asteroids ranging from 49 to 1,312 feet across.
"The likelihood of an asteroid impact is really low, but the consequences can be unimaginable", said Clemens Rumpf, a senior research assistant at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and lead author of the study, in a press release. Shock waves arise from a spike in atmospheric pressure and can rupture internal organs, while wind blasts carry enough power to hurl human bodies and flatten forests. There are seven possible effects of asteroid strike, ranging from flying debris to seismic shaking.
Asteroid impact effects vary in intensity and kind.
Also, unlike in Hollywood movies, land-based impacts would be far more unsafe and deadly than asteroids that landed in oceans, the study found. The thermal threat and high-pressure shock wave are more pronounced on land than they are during an oceanic impact, but the tsunamis created during an asteroid strike at sea remains the biggest threat to life in those particular scenarios.
On the off chance that a major space rock or asteroid - like the one zooming by on Wednesday - hammered into the Earth, savage winds of up to 1,000 miles per hour and extraordinary stun waves would kill a great many people, as indicated by a review distributed on Wednesday.
Large asteroids hitting the ocean could generate huge tsunami waves; however, the waves' energy would tend to dissipate as it traveled. The least concerning effects of asteroid strike are cratering and flying debris that only accounted for less than 1 percent of lives lost. He said affected populations were likely to avoid harm by hiding in basements and other underground structures.
Only asteroids that spanned at least 18 meters (nearly 60 feet) in diameter were lethal. That's roughly the width of the asteroid involved in the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor blast, which injured hundreds of people in the vicinity of the Siberian city but caused no known deaths.
Purdue geophysicist Jay Melosh, who wasn't involved in the study, said the report represents "a reasonable step forward in trying to understand and come to grips with the hazards posed by asteroids and comet impactors". "But if 1,000,000 people are affected, it may be worthwhile to mount a deflection mission and push the asteroid out of the way".