February 01, 2013, 5:33 PM —
Image credit: couleewinds
With another asteroid scare coming up later this month (spoiler alert: we won't die), it's time to put the danger of "impact events" -- when comets and asteroids crash into Earth -- in perspective.
In 2005, the Torino Scale -- developed by an MIT professor to categorize the threat of near-Earth objects (NEOs) -- estimated the a person born today had a 1 in 200,000 of being killed by an "impact event."
Notice this doesn't say "a 1 in 200,000 chance that civilization as we know it will be destroyed just like in all those disaster movies." It's a 1 in 200,000 chance that any random person would be killed by a rock falling from the sky.
Other researchers peg the odds at 1 in 500,000. Since it's all speculation, let's use both numbers and see how they stack up to the lifetime odds of being killed in other ways, based on 2007 data from the National Safety Council. This should provide some perspective about your asteroid fears.
Odds of Death From:
Heart disease: 1 in 6
Cancer: 1 in 7
Stroke: 1 in 28
Motor vehicle accidents: 1 in 88
Falls: 1 in 171
Assault by firearms: 1 in 306
Motorcycle accident: 1 in 770
Accidental drowning: 1 in 1,123
Firearms discharge: 1 in 6,309
Air and space transport accidents: 1 in 7,032
This is taking forever. Let's skip ahead...
Lightning: 1 in 84,079
Bitten/attacked by dog: 1 in 120,864
Earthquake: 1 in 148,756
Flood: 1 in 175,803
Impact event (high end): 1 in 200,000
Fireworks discharge: 1 in 386,766
Impact event (low end): 1 in 500,000
So that's how much you have to worry about getting killed by an asteroid or comet.
But I'll let Donald Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Object Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have the last word (as reported by NBC News):
"No one should be losing sleep over this issue," Yeomans says. "We've got much bigger problems, such as global warming or firearm safety."