If you have a lingering fear of an unseen space rock slamming into our planet and wreaking havoc on an unimaginable scale, your nightmare scenario probably involves fire, flying boulders, and devastating earthquakes that shear your house in half and send you tumbling into a dark chasm. It’s scary stuff, but believe it or not, none of those horrific things you’ve seen in disaster movies are what will probably actually kill you if an asteroid does one day nail Earth. Instead, it’ll be the breeze.
Well, “breeze” might be putting it lightly. A paper published in Geophysical Research Letters used the computer simulations of 50,000 virtual asteroids to rank the dangers they posted to humanity, and what they found was that wind was by far the single greatest threat you and I. The rapidly-moving air would radiate out in a wave and, depending on whether the asteroid struck the ground or detonated in the atmosphere, that wind could absolutely devastate everything in its path, slicing structures off their foundations and killing untold numbers in the process.
Of course, even though the wind is the single biggest danger, the heat of a potential blast, resulting tsunami (if the asteroid impacted an ocean), and the pressure created by the shockwave (which can rupture human organs) are pretty terrible, too. In short, there’s very little upside to being hit with a giant rock from outer space, so humanity should probably do everything in its power to keep such a thing from happening.