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Seen any shooting stars lately? Worried about being clobbered by a meteor? Let’s talk about the chances of a meteor hitting Earth—and one of us!
For reasons no one can explain, meteors are mostly crammed into the final five months of the year. The most famous is the Perseids, which peak in August. These “falling stars” are mostly the size of apple seeds. But larger ones are out there, too, and some people worry.
Chances of a Space Object Hitting Earth
On the Web you can find scary discussions about objects supposedly on a collision course with our planet. The best known is probably the mythical planet Nibiru, which I get asked about on Public Radio call-in shows. I tell callers it doesn’t exist, since any approaching new planet would change the positions of comets and such, which isn’t happening. However, since conspiracy websites say astronomers (like me) are in on the plot to keep it secret, I apparently can’t be trusted.
Instead, let me ease any fears with a simple question: What are the chances of a natural global cataclysm in our lifetimes?
Such mass-destruction impacts happen every 90 million years on average. Meaning, Earth suffered widespread damage 65 million, 200 million, 251 million, 364 million, and 439 million years ago. So during this next year, figure there’s only a one in 90 million chance. That’s twice as unlikely as you winning a pick-six lottery after buying a single ticket.
Want more reassurance? There are 31,500,000 seconds in a year. Say you’ll honk your horn only once during 2017, and, wherever I am, day or night, I must snap my fingers during the exact second you honk. Not likely, right? Well, it’s three times more probable I’ll choose the correct second than Earth will be clobbered by Nibiru or anything else.