The end of life on Earth?

Could a meteorite collision really mean the end of life on Earth? Read this to find out what happens when small meteorites collide with Earth, and just how much damage a big one could do.

Instructions

Do the preparation exercise first. Then read the text and do the other exercises.

Reading

The end of life on Earth?

It weighed about 10,000 tons, entered the atmosphere at a speed of 64,000km/h and exploded over a city with a blast of 500 kilotons. But on 15 February 2013, we were lucky. The meteorite that showered pieces of rock over Chelyabinsk, Russia, was relatively small, at only about 17 metres wide. Although many people were injured by falling glass, the damage was nothing compared to what had happened in Siberia nearly one hundred years ago. Another relatively small object (approximately 50 metres in diameter) exploded in mid-air over a forest region, flattening about 80 million trees. If it had exploded over a city such as Moscow or London, millions of people would have been killed.

By a strange coincidence, the same day that the meteorite terrified the people of Chelyabinsk, another 50m-wide asteroid passed relatively close to Earth. Scientists were expecting that visit and know that the asteroid will return to fly close by us in 2046, but the Russian meteorite earlier in the day had been too small for anyone to spot.

Most scientists agree that comets and asteroids pose the biggest natural threat to human existence. It was probably a large asteroid or comet colliding with Earth which wiped out the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. An enormous object, 10 to 16km in diameter, struck the Yucatan region of Mexico with the force of 100 megatons. That is the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb for every person alive on Earth today.

Many scientists, including the late Stephen Hawking, say that any comet or asteroid greater than 20km in diameter that hits Earth will result in the complete destruction of complex life, including all animals and most plants. As we have seen, even a much smaller asteroid can cause great damage.

The Earth has been kept fairly safe for the last 65 million years by good fortune and the massive gravitational field of the planet Jupiter. Our cosmic guardian, with its stable circular orbit far from the sun, sweeps up and scatters away most of the dangerous comets and asteroids which might cross Earth’s orbit. After the Chelyabinsk meteorite, scientists are now monitoring potential hazards even more carefully but, as far as they know, there is no danger in the foreseeable future.

Types of space rocks

  • Comet – a ball of rock and ice that sends out a tail of gas and dust behind it. Bright comets only appear in our visible night sky about once every ten years.
  • Asteroid – a rock a few feet to several kms in diameter. Unlike comets, asteroids have no tail. Most are too small to cause any damage and burn up in the atmosphere. They appear to us as ‘shooting stars’.
  • Meteoroid – part of an asteroid or comet.
  • Meteorite – what a meteoroid is called when it hits Earth.
Discussion

Do asteroids scare you? Why or why not? Have you ever experienced any type of natural disaster?

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Comments

Submitted by aycauzz1 on Tue, 06/07/2022 - 19:02

Space is interesting. It's always interesting to learn new things about it. That's why i'm not afraid of asteroids.
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Submitted by Kostantinus on Tue, 03/02/2021 - 09:25

I am not scared of asteroids, because I am a brave boy and I don't think this kind of disaster will happen to us the next 100 000 000 years. It's just a plot for a regular holliwood movie. Thanks God, I have never experienced the disaster and I hope I won't.

Submitted by Maple135 on Fri, 05/22/2020 - 22:26

I'm not afraid of asteroids. That's because I don't think about them. I never experienced any type of natural disaster.
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Submitted by Giovannichoi on Sat, 03/28/2020 - 10:17

I...am scared of comet or asteroid a little. I have learned that the earth will be explode about in 500,000,000 years later. So I'm not scared about that more than a little. I've imagined about comet-strike, but I thought we can defend it. Such as laser-turnabout, THAAD, and make a energy-shield around the earth. It will be dangerous, though, so I think we should find another planet for mankind in future. It can be heard like idiot, but I strongly think we don't have to worry about it. I am scared about natural disasters, though. I saw the news about avalanche and volcano-explosion sometimes. It looked so awful to everyone. No one can live at the place if there was any natural disasters. So I wish there won't any natural disasters be when I'm alive.

Submitted by Elife on Mon, 02/17/2020 - 21:08

Of course! I am afraid of asteroids. I'm very young, I don't want to die for an asteroid. And I have never experienced any type of natural disaster, and I hope not.

Submitted by parsasoroori on Sun, 04/14/2019 - 18:22

Do asteroids scare you? Why or why not? Have you ever experienced any type of natural disaster? Yes they do. Mankind are afraid of uncontrollable situations. Fortunately not yet.

Submitted by shkurr123 on Wed, 11/14/2018 - 10:02

rilly nic exersices ei like them verry mutch.

Submitted by Dreamyoverflow on Sat, 07/28/2018 - 20:27

I am definitely scared of asteroids imagine if we would just one day get hit by one, how terrifying! Anyways i really hope that the Earth dosen't get struck by one. I don't want to get wiped out of the world precisely like the dinosarious just like that. How sad.
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Submitted by myname on Mon, 06/25/2018 - 13:04

I do not care about asteroids and have never experienced any type of natural disaster. I don't think they are scary
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Submitted by SLMT on Sun, 04/08/2018 - 14:27

I’m not afraid of asteroids.The scientists also said it can’t be possible and it will take thousands of year to end the earth. I have experienced a biggest natural disaster.In 2008, Cyclone Nargis which is the deadliest natural disaster according to record hit Myanmar.At that time,I was only 6 years old.Even 10 years has passed since that sad day.But I can remember all of the scenes.That time appears in my mind like a old movie.I won’t never forget that day.It’s a nightmare for me.That’s why natural disaster is the only one I am afraid of.
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Submitted by Jo - Coordinator on Mon, 04/09/2018 - 09:57

Hi SLMT, wow, that must have been really terrifying. I'm not surprised you say you will always remember the day. Thanks a lot for sharing your story with us. Joanna (LearnEnglish Teens team)

In reply to by SLMT

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