What would happen if a space rock crashed into your town? Find out with this simulator

21 January 2023

ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – A comet spanning roughly 2,000 feet landing in the heart of St. Louis could cause a crater nearly 4 miles wide and an earthquake felt as far as 116 miles away, according to an asteroid impact simulator based on real research but less-real potential scenarios.

Created by web developer Neal Agarwal, better known online as neal.fun (which is also the name of his website), the Asteroid Launcher lets you “crash” an asteroid of your making into the city or area of your choice.

Agarwal tells Nexstar a love of disaster movies like “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” served as the inspiration behind the simulator.

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“The project took about two months in total,” Agarwal explains. “The first month was spent mostly on research and finding the right equations. The second month was for designing the site and coding.”

Agarwal relied on previous research on asteroid impacts, like the Earth Impacts Effects Program created by researchers from Imperial College London and Purdue University and a study featuring a NASA aerospace engineer.

The asteroid launcher is simple to use. You can select a space rock’s composition (asteroids made of iron, stone, carbon, or gold, or a comet), as well as its diameter (with a max size of one mile, you won’t be able to recreate the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs), impact speed, and impact angle. Then, on a map, choose impact location anywhere in the world and tap “Launch Asteroid.”

You can then see the effects of the impact, including crater size, shock waves, wind, and earthquake aftermath.

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Let’s say, for example, you wanted to know the impact that Dimorphos – an asteroid that posed no risk to Earth but NASA recently hit with a spacecraft – crashing into St. Louis, Missouri would have. You can set the launcher to a stone asteroid – since NASA reports seeing boulders on its surface – and the diameter to 500 feet (slightly less than the 525 feet estimated by NASA due to the need to round in the simulator. You can also leave the speed and angle of impact settings as is – these are considered likely rates if an asteroid impact were to happen.

According to the simulator, Dimorphos would leave a crater spanning roughly 1.5 miles and nearly 1,800 feet deep. It would take out Busch Stadium, home to the St. Louis Cardinals, and hit part of the Mississippi River. The impact would cause a 236-decibel shock wave that could lead to houses within 16 miles collapsing and a 5.8 magnitude earthquake felt nearly 25 miles away.

As entertaining as it may be, it’s important to remember that, most likely, the asteroid impacts you create in the simulator aren’t likely to occur.

Astronomers are now monitoring about 2,200 potentially hazardous asteroids in Earth’s orbital neighborhood, meaning they are larger than 500 feet in size and pass within 4.7 million miles of our planet, according to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

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Fortunately, they are rarely close enough to pose a genuine hazard. NASA says there is no known asteroid larger than 140 meters (roughly 460 feet) that poses a significant chance of hitting our planet in the next 100 years.

Even if an asteroid came close to Earth, NASA is prepared after successfully completing the world’s first planetary defense mission on Dimorphos last fall.

But, if you’re like Agarwal, you may just like exploring the possibilities of an asteroid impact. You can try it here on Agarwal’s website.

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