spaceSpace and Physics

This Is What Would Happen If A Colossal Asteroid Hit The Sea


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


Los Alamos National Laboratory

Disaster movies rarely point out that an asteroid traveling en-route to Earth is most likely going to land in the sea, considering that the vast majority of our planet is made up of water. Nevertheless, that scenario is no less threatening for us poor humans.

Scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory have created a computer model that analyzes what happens when an asteroid lands in the ocean. Their video demonstrating their research won the Best Scientific Visualization & Data Analytics Showcase award at Supercomputing 2016.


Catastrophic damage aside, it looks very cool.

Using high-end computer models, the researchers looked to see how exactly these shockwaves behave and how they change when you tinker around with differing space rock sizes, trajectories, or whether it exploded in an airburst.

One of the many scenarios which the lab tested out, demonstrating the wave of water vapor released by the strike. Los Alamos National Laboratory

They estimate that an asteroid hitting the ocean within 10 to 20 kilometers (6.2 to 12.4 miles) of a populated coastline could be pretty bad news, inducing hurricane-force air shockwaves and a rush of water resulting in a tsunami-like wave.


Even if you don’t live anywhere near the coast, you could still be pretty screwed. It’s predicted that a 250-meter (820 feet) asteroid could vaporize 250 metric megatons of water. Thrusting all that water vapor into the stratosphere could also affect the world’s climate, as water vapor is a greenhouse gas.

Gulp. No wonder the American Geophysical Union fall meeting announced this week that humanity is not ready for an asteroid strike. Er, please can we get on it?



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