On Tuesday, January 16th, Michigan residents reported seeing a bright light in the sky, followed by a loud boom that left the ground shaking. The National Weather Service confirmed it was a rare meteor exploding as it entered earth’s atmosphere, causing a 2.0-magnitude earthquake.
And as absolutely cool as last night’s meteor was (the videos were phenomenal), it left many of us wondering: How likely is it that a meteor will hit earth and cause real damage?
The scary truth is that the solar system is full of floating rocks and debris that hit Earth every year. In fact, every time you see a beautiful meteor shower or a lone shooting star, you’re watching debris heading toward our planet. Most of these pieces of debris end up burning in the atmosphere (we call these shooting stars), but occasionally, small chunks of rock make it to earth.
There are many examples throughout history of larger pieces of debris hitting us, and even records of rocks falling on people’s homes. Scientists say they unfortunately can’t keep track of them all, since so much of the debris falls in remote areas, like in the middle of the ocean or Antarctica.
If that sounds terrifying to you, remember: Our planet actually protects us from a ton of stuff. The official NASA website says,
There are over 100 structures on our planet that have been recognized as “definite impact craters,” meaning they are places that were hit with large pieces of debris. But scientists say that extremely large meteor falls only happen about once or twice every 1,000 years. As for a catastrophic meteor that could wipe out the planet completely? It is certainly a possibility, but scientists say these are “estimated to take place several times per million years on average.”
According to NASA, there is no record in modern times of any person who has been killed by a meteorite, and scientists have not identified any major asteroids or comets on course to hit Earth. NASA has said, “In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”
Basically, there’s no sign that the “big one” will hit any time soon. Rest easy, everyone.