Using what’s called the Deep Water Impact Ensemble Data Set, collected by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Galen R. Gisler and John M. Patchett, NCAR ran simulations that account for different asteroid sizes and angles of entry. “NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is keenly interested to know the lower size limit of dangerous asteroids, so as to focus resources on finding all larger objects that potentially threaten the earth,” the researchers wrote in a dataset report published in 2017. “Since most of the planet’s surface is water, that is where asteroids will most likely impact. This observation has generated a serious debate over the last two decades on just how dangerous impact-induced waves or tsunamis are to populated shorelines.” The visualizations of the data show that in some scenarios, large asteroids could hit the water intact and not cause much of an airburst, while others could crash hard sending water up to 5km (3 miles) into the air.
The computer imagery of the impacts is cool, but the potential for deadly tsunamis is certainly not. Even though there is currently no real threat of rocks falling from space in the near future, having an idea of the damage one could cause could greatly help with preparation. Let’s just hope the asteroid that does hit matches the data set and that its size and angle are of the “no airburst” variety.