The odds of dying by asteroid impact

On October 3, 2013 by Mike

Don Davis / NASA

What are the odds of dying by asteroid impact? That’s a good question and I suppose it’s one that the average actuarian has a quick answer to. I was thinking about it today and realized that, although I know something about the frequency of impacts and their effects, I hadn’t really thought about whether one was more likely to die from a bee sting or an asteroid impact. Anyway, a quick search revealed a few interesting statistics and a fun article at Wired Magazine.

Given impact frequency, the odds given (1:250,000) are probably pretty reasonable. But how does it compare to other events? Well, in our lifetimes, we have about a 1 in 5 chance of dying from heart disease but only a 1 in 100,000 chance of dying from a bee attack. If we lived in the US, we might have a 1 in 60,000 chance of being executed but only a 1 in 500,000 chance of dying by tsunami. And dogs would get us in our 147,717th lifetime.

So what’s the point here? Well, it’s really just to say that we’ve all experienced (at least through media) the high chance causes of death. Even deaths by dogs and tsunami we expect to be familiar with. We accept that these deaths occur with a reasonable frequency but don’t realize that the odds that they’ll get us are similar to death by asteroid impact. Asteroid impacts are less frequent in time, but they could be expected to kill thousands to billions of people at a time.

With PHASST, what we hope to achieve is a better understanding of the small objects (<100m). They won’t cause mass extinctions but they are objects that we will all experience in our lifetime. Tunguska, Sikhote Alin, and Chelyabinsk (to name a few) may not have killed anyone directly but they all had the potential to cause fatalities had the conditions been slightly different.

Remember to check out the PHASTT #AsteroidSearch projects on Indiegogo at,

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