What happens if you are hit by a meteorite? It would certainly make for a nice conversation starter — if you survived, that is.
Let's look at the handful of recorded cases where a meteorite has struck a person, and calculate the odds of it happening to you. We'll even tell you how to minimize the risk of being hit by a meteor.
If you are hit by a meteorite, do you get a visit from local authorities? Do ominous government officials step in?
Here are a few of the verified cases of meteorite on human violence and estimate the chance of a personal collision with a hunk of space rock.
Cold War Collision
The best known modern account of a meteorite striking a human took place in a small town in Alabama against the backdrop of the early days of the Cold War. In 1954, a four-kilogram meteorite crashed through the roof of a rental home, bounced off a radio, and struck a sleeping Ann Hodges.
The meteorite, still hot to the touch when it hit, bruised Hodges' hip, but did not do any permanent damage.
Ann Hodges became a minor celebrity over the next few weeks, with offers to buy the meteorite pouring in from across the globe.
The United States Air Force, concerned with the possibility that this could be secret Soviet surveillance equipment or spacecraft, visited the home and retrieved the meteorite for testing.
Unfortunately, a three-way court battle involving Hodges, the USAF, and Birdie Guy, the owner of the rental house, ensued to determine ownership of the meteorite. Hodges eventually obtained the meteorite from Birdie Guy for the price of $500 (roughly $4,000 today). The Hodges Meteorite is now in the possession of the University of Alabama.
A Scarcity of Accounts
Since the Hodges Incident, at least two other individuals have been struck by a meteorite. In 1992, a meteorite hit a banana tree as it hurtled toward the ground in Mbale, Uganda, with a three-gram fragment striking a nearby boy in the head.
In June of 2009, a tiny, pea-sized meteorite struck a German teenager, burning his skin before it created a small crater in the ground. Neither of the duo appear to have been visited by military or government officials.
Prior to the modern era, a single account of meteorite-on-human violence exists. A 17th Century text tells of the death of a monk after being struck by a meteorite, with the meteorite striking him in the leg and breaking the bone.
What are the odds?
Earth has a surface area of roughly half a billion square kilometers, with land covering a little less than a third of the planet. In day-to-day activities, a person occupies about a square meter of space at any given time.
With 7 billion people on the planet, the chance of a member of the human race being hit by any meteorite as it crashes into the earth is one in seventy-five thousand. The number of meteorites that do strike Earth is difficult to estimate with any accuracy. A range between 100 and 3,000 per year is often suggested, with the vast majority of meteoroids breaking down to dust-sized particles before reaching the ground.
Collectors go to great lengths to seek out these extraterrestrial rocks, while Korea, China, and the United States scour the uninhabited areas of Antarctica for meteorites. SETI scientist Peter Jenniskens encourages individuals to report any meteorite they come across.
Despite the statistical improbability, if you are concerned with a personal meteorite strike, the best advice is to stay indoors during meteor showers and to sleep standing up to minimize the amount of Earth's surface area you take up.
The top image is via coda/Flickr and depicts the Hoba Meteorite, a meteorite that fell in Namibia (a country along the Southwestern coast of Africa) and believed to be one of the largest meteorites to ever strike the planet. Additional image courtesy of The University of Alabama's Alabama Museum of Natural History.