IT could wipe out millions of lives within minutes and leave a crater spanning two miles across.

Measuring 300 yards wide and travelling at 23,000mph, Asteroid 99942 Apophis is predicted to slam into the planet in 25 years’ time.

Now Southampton’s own experts have devised a hi-tech tool to prepare for the single greatest natural disaster hazard facing humanity.

The software has been developed by the University of Southampton with the UK Space Agency and reveals the massive space rock could cause millions of deaths depending where on earth it slams into.

They are predicting scenes of devastation similar to those in the Hollywood blockbuster Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis, and Deep Impact starring Morgan Freeman.

PhD student Charlotte Norlund, Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, Dr Hugh Lewis and Professor Peter Atkinson have been developing the tool to seek a better understanding of the asteroid threat.

Dr Lewis said: “We know it would be like the worst natural disaster multiplied by ten.

“We have to act even though we know it’s only a small chance of it hitting us because of the consequence.

“That is why there is so much activity around this at the United Nations and at a national level. “The UK is highly active in driving forward solutions in dealing with this and the tools we have available are going to enhance that process.”

The simulation divides the world into a grid in which there is a complex set of data, including the area’s population and economy.

Scientists have already plotted potential strike zones of Apophis so the effects can be estimated in the grid.

An example of a more devastating impact zone would be if it landed on densely populated Venezuela and Costa Rica.

Millions would perish from flash burns and the force of the impact and from the collapse of infrastructure in the aftermath.


  • Asteroids and comets are believed to be ancient remnants of the earliest years of the formation of our Solar System more than four billion years ago.
  • The last big asteroid to strike Earth was the one estimated to have measured 300 ft wide, which exploded over the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908, knocking down trees for hundreds of square miles.
  • Asteroids predominantly orbit the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
  • At 5.4 kilometres in diameter, the largest known potentially hazardous asteroid is Toutatis.
  • A large number occupy orbits close to the Earth’s and are what experts term Near Earth Objects (NEOs) which present a very real impact threat.
  • On February 4 Asteroid 2011 CQ1 shot over the Pacific at just 3,400 miles above the Earth’s surface
  • Every day, Earth is pummelled by more than 100 tons of material that spewed off asteroids and comets, although this is mostly dust and very small particles.
  • In 1998 NASA started the Spaceguard Survey, cataloguing 90 per cent of NEOs greater than 1km in diameter although smaller but just as devastating ones are harder to pick up.

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