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Future Asteroid Will Cause Giant Tsunamis

Asteroid 1950 DA is heading our way and is due to hit the Earth on March 16, 2880. Since 70% of the Earth is covered with water, it will probably land in the ocean, causing huge tsunami waves to spread out from the impact and drown coastal areas. A computer simulation of an asteroid impact tsunami developed by California scientists shows waves as high as 400 feet sweeping onto the Atlantic Coast.

Researcher Steven Ward says, "From a geologic perspective, events like this have happened many times in the past. Asteroids the size of 1950 DA have probably struck the Earth about 600 times since the age of the dinosaurs."

Ward and colleague Erik Asphaug are trying to conduct an assessment of upcoming asteroid impacts. The laws of orbital mechanics make it possible for scientists to predict an impact if they are able to detect the asteroid in advance. "It's like knowing the exact time when Mount Shasta will erupt," Asphaug says. "The way to deal with any natural hazard is to improve our knowledge base, so we can turn the kind of human fear that gets played on in the movies into something that we have a handle on."

Here's what will happen when the asteroid hits: The 60,000-megaton blast of the impact will vaporize the asteroid and blow a cavity in the ocean 11 miles across, all the way down to the ocean floor. Water will rush in to fill the cavity, and a ring of waves will spread out in all directions, creating tsunami waves. "In the movies they show one big wave, but you actually end up with dozens of waves. The first ones to arrive are pretty small, and they gradually increase in height, arriving at intervals of 3 or 4 minutes," Ward says.

The waves will spread all through the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. The coastal areas closest to the impact will get hit by the biggest waves. Two hours after the impact, 400-foot waves will reach beaches from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, and four hours after the impact, the entire East Coast will be hit by waves at least 200 feet high. It will take 8 hours for the waves to reach Europe, where they come ashore at heights of about 30 to 50 feet.

Will we have any warning? "Tsunamis travel fast, but the ocean is very big, so even if a small or moderate-sized asteroid comes out of nowhere you could still have several hours of advance warning before the tsunami reaches land," Ward says. "We have a pretty good handle on the size of the waves that would be generated if we can estimate the size of the asteroid."

"Until we detect all the big (asteroids) and can predict their orbits, we could be struck without warning," says Asphaug. "With the ongoing search campaigns, we'll probably be able to sound the 'all clear' by 2030 for 90% of the impacts that could trigger a global catastrophe."

However, there's always the chance that comets will visit our solar system for the first time, and these may take us by surprise. Asphaug says, "Those are risks we may just have to live with."

Speaking of tough times ahead, did you know that the legend of Planet X is nothing new, but has been around a long time? Find out what it REALLY means.

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