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Can Asteroids Wipe Out All Living Things On Earth?

First Posted: Apr 21, 2017 06:00 AM EDT

Science fiction depicts large asteroids killing animals, with large ones depicted to wipe out an entire species in as colorful and chaotic ways as possible. While these may cause quite a stir for entertainment value, scientists recently decided that there is no actual way to know how deadly these things actually are.

British scientist Clemens Rumpf previously said that the initial shockwave of the asteroid would be the biggest killer of life on Earth. However, thanks to new studies he and his team published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, it was found that there are other ways asteroids could kill life on the planet.

Space.com reported that Rumpf and his colleagues used computer models to simulate about 50,000 asteroid strikes around the globe. The artificial impacts depicted included space rocks 50 feet to 1,300 feet wide -- about the size range that hits the Earth most often. They then estimated the percentage of deaths caused by each of seven effects: shock waves, wind blasts, heat, flying debris, cratering, seismic shaking and tsunamis.

So which of these effects were found most deadly? According to the team, wind and shock waves would account for over 60 percent of all the lives lost. However, the two effects act together, and wind blasts were found to be more devastating of the two. The sizzling heat of the impact followed, accounting for 30 percent of deaths, while tsunamis are expected to wipe out the rest of the population.

The rest of the effects has little contribution: flying debris will contribute to a maximum of 0.91 percent of all the deaths, while cratering and seismic shaking only account for 0.2 percent and 0.17 percent, respectively. However, the results varied based on the size of the asteroids. Heat, it turns out, accounts for a larger percentage of casualties as size of the asteroids gets bigger.

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