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, 420 (6913), 294-6

The Flux of Small near-Earth Objects Colliding With the Earth


The Flux of Small near-Earth Objects Colliding With the Earth

P Brown et al. Nature.


Asteroids with diameters smaller than approximately 50-100 m that collide with the Earth usually do not hit the ground as a single body; rather, they detonate in the atmosphere. These small objects can still cause considerable damage, such as occurred near Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908. The flux of small bodies is poorly constrained, however, in part because ground-based observational searches pursue strategies that lead them preferentially to find larger objects. A Tunguska-class event-the energy of which we take to be equivalent to 10 megatons of TNT-was previously estimated to occur every 200-300 years, with the largest annual airburst calculated to be approximately 20 kilotons (kton) TNT equivalent (ref. 4). Here we report satellite records of bolide detonations in the atmosphere over the past 8.5 years. We find that the flux of objects in the 1-10-m size range has the same power-law distribution as bodies with diameters >50 m. From this we estimate that the Earth is hit on average annually by an object with approximately 5 kton equivalent energy, and that Tunguska-like events occur about once every 1,000 years.

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