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Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites

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Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites

Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said “The chances that your tombstone will read ‘Killed by an Asteroid’ are about the same as they’d be for ‘Killed in Airplane Crash’.”

Part of the reason for this is the Earth’s atmospheric ability to burn up inbound space rocks before they reach the surface, a process that ensures that most meteors never become meteorites.

Of the 33,162 meteorites found in the past 100 years, only 625 were seen. Today’s visualization from data designer Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez groups these 625 observed meteorites by the year they fell, classification, mass, and landing location on Earth.

Asteroid, Meteoroids, Meteors, and Meteorites

Not all flying space rocks are the same. Their origins and trajectories define its type.

Asteroid: A large rocky body in space, in orbit around the Sun.
Meteoroid: Much smaller rocks or particles in orbit around the Sun.
Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor, or a shooting star.
Meteorite: If a small asteroid or large meteoroid survives its fiery passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands on Earth’s surface.
Bolide: A very bright meteor that often explodes in the atmosphere, also known as a fireball.

Classification

This graphic classifies meteorites into four types based on their composition: stony, stony-iron, iron and other.

StonyStony-IronIronOther
Achondites
Chrondites
Unclassifed
Mesoiderites
Pallasites
Magmatic
Non-magmatic or Primitive
Doubtful Meteorites
Pseudometeorite

Top 5 Meteorites by Size

While half of all observed meteorites weighed less than 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs), there are a few exceptional ones that stand out. The graphic highlights the five largest meteorites ever observed, and when they fell:

LocatonSizeYearType
Sikhote-Alin, Russia23 MT1947Iron
Jilin, China4 MT1976Stony
Allende, Mexico2 MT1969Stony
Norton County, USA1.1 MT1948Stony
Kunya-Urgench, Turkmenistan1.1 MT1998Stony

Each category differs in their amount of iron-nickel metal and what they reveal about the early solar system.

Fireballs in the Sky: Bolides

Small asteroids frequently enter and disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere randomly around the globe, creating fireballs known as bolides. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program mapped data gathered by U.S. government sensors from 1994 to 2013.

Source: NASA

The data indicates that small asteroids impacted Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a bolide (or fireball), on 556 separate occasions over a 20-year period. Almost all asteroids of this size disintegrate in the atmosphere and are harmless.

A notable exception was the Chelyabinsk event in 2013, which was the largest known natural object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event. A house-sized asteroid entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk at over 11 miles per second, and blew apart 14 miles above the ground.

The explosion released an energy equivalent to ~440,000 tons of TNT, generating a shock wave that shattered windows over 200 square miles—damaging several buildings and injuring over 1,600 people.

Look Out Above

While the night sky appears to be a beautiful tableau of the cosmos, these two visualizations paint a dramatic galactic battle. Rocks inundate our planet as it moves through the darkness of space. The resiliency of Earth’s atmosphere to erode these invaders has allowed life to flourish⁠—until the next big one comes through.

Remember the Dinosaurs?

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Misc

Visualizing the Power and Frequency of Earthquakes

Our planet is in a constant state of creation and destruction as the plates of the earth collide. This visualization looks at earthquake magnitude.

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Earthquake Magnitude

Visualizing the Power and Frequency of Earthquakes

The surface of our planet is in a constant state of creation and destruction as the plates of the Earth collide. It is this movement of the Earth’s crust that causes earthquakes, sending tremors throughout the world.

Today’s graphic is inspired by a classic USGS diagram that tracks the scale and frequency of earthquakes.

Shifting Foundations

Earthquakes occur because the crust of the Earth is made up of several plates. The boundaries of these plates create faults that can run into one another.

Earthquakes describe both the mechanism that causes a sudden stress release along plate boundaries and also the ensuing ground shaking.

They occur when stress builds up along a tectonic fault. This stress causes the two surfaces of the fault, which had previously been stuck together due to friction, to suddenly move, or slide, releasing energy in the form of seismic waves.

Measuring an Earthquake’s Impact

There are three factors to assess the impact of Earthquakes – magnitude, energy, and intensity.

Magnitude is a number most commonly associated with the Richter scale, describing the size of an Earthquake on a scale from 0 to 10 – the latter of which is the maximum motion recorded by a seismograph. Each increase by one on the scale represents a tenfold increase in the amplitude. There are over a million tremors around the planet each year, but it’s not until an earthquake reaches a magnitude of 4 that humans can typically feel it.

Another way to measure the size of an earthquake is by how much energy it releases. The amount of energy radiated by an earthquake is a measure of the potential for damage to man-made structures.

An earthquake releases energy at various frequencies, and in order to calculate accurately, you have to include all frequencies of shaking for the entire event. Some research suggests technology could harness this energy for power generation.

Intensity describes the severity of an earthquake with a qualitative evaluation of its effects on the Earth’s surface and on the built environment. An earthquake may have a high magnitude but if a city or landscape experiences little damage, it can be said that the intensity is low. The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale measures this intensity.

The World’s Largest Earthquakes by Magnitude

Prior to the development and use of seismographs, around 1900, scientists could only estimate magnitudes, based on historical reports of the extent and severity of damage.

DateLocationMagnitude
May 22, 1960Valdivia, Chile9.4-9.6
March 27, 1964Prince William Sound, Alaska9.2
Dec. 26, 2004Indian Ocean, Sumatra, Indonesia9.1
March 11, 2011Pacific Ocean, Tohoku Region, Japan9.1
July 8, 1730Valparaiso, Chile9.1-9.3 (est.)
Nov. 4, 1952Kamchatka, Russia9
Aug. 13, 1868Arica, Chile8.5-9.0 (est.)
January 26, 1700Pacific Coast, Modern Day British Columbia8.7-9.2 (est.)
April 2, 1762Chittagong, Bangladesh8.8 (est.)
Nov. 25, 1833Sumatra Indonesia8.8 (est.)

Earthquakes are a fact of life on Earth and mark distinct moments in history. One would think given our knowledge of earthquakes, that humans would avoid these locations – however, the very faults of the Earth also create its greatest advantages.

Living with Your Faults

It’s extremely common to find human settlements along the fault lines where earthquakes occur most frequently. Some could say that this is because these decisions were made before a complete understanding of science enabled us to know the potential risks involved.

However, a recent scientific study reveals that there may be more to the pattern than previously thought. Tectonically active plates may have produced greater biodiversity, more food, and water for our human predecessors.

Certain landscape features formed by tectonic processes such as cliffs, river gorges, and sedimentary valleys create environments that support access to drinking water, shelter, and an abundant food supply.

This inherent problem reveals that humans are more connected to their environments than previously thought. It comes down to a question of how well humans can adapt their lifestyle and built environments to a dynamic planet.

Now let’s worry about the asteroids

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COVID-19

How Many People Die Each Day?

COVID-19 deaths can be hard to interpret without context. This graphic shows how many people die each day globally, by cause.

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How Many People Die Each Day?

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the media continues to rattle off statistics at full force.

However, without a frame of reference, numbers such as the death toll can be difficult to interpret. Mortalities attributed to the virus, for example, are often measured in the thousands of people per day globally—but is this number a little or a lot, relative to typical causes of death?

Today’s graphic uses data from Our World in Data to provide context with the total number of worldwide daily deaths. It also outlines how many people who die each day from specific causes.

Worldwide Deaths by Cause

Nearly 150,000 people die per day worldwide, based on the latest comprehensive research published in 2017. Which diseases are the most deadly, and how many lives do they take per day?

Here’s how many people die each day on average, sorted by cause:

RankCauseDaily Deaths
#1Cardiovascular diseases48,742
#2Cancers26,181
#3Respiratory diseases10,724
#4Lower respiratory infections7,010
#5Dementia6,889
#6Digestive diseases6,514
#7Neonatal disorders4,887
#8Diarrheal diseases4,300
#9Diabetes3,753
#10Liver diseases3,624
#11Road injuries3,406
#12Kidney disease3,370
#13Tuberculosis3,243
#14HIV/AIDS2,615
#15Suicide2,175
#16Malaria1,698
#17Homicide1,111
#18Parkinson disease933
#19Drowning809
#20Meningitis789
#21Nutritional deficiencies740
#22Protein-energy malnutrition635
#23Maternal disorders531
#24Alcohol use disorders507
#25Drug use disorders456
#26Conflict355
#27Hepatitis346
#28Fire330
#29Poisonings198
#30Heat (hot and cold exposure)146
#31Terrorism72
#32Natural disasters26
Total Daily Deaths147,118

Cardiovascular diseases, or diseases of the heart and blood vessels, are the leading cause of death. However, their prominence is not reflected in our perceptions of death nor in the media.

While the death toll for HIV/AIDS peaked in 2004, it still affects many people today. The disease causes over 2,600 daily deaths on average.

Interestingly, terrorism and natural disasters cause very few deaths in relation to other causes. That said, these numbers can vary from day to day—and year to year—depending on the severity of each individual instance.

Total Daily Deaths by Country

On a national level, these statistics vary further. Below are the total deaths from all causes for selected countries, based on 2017 data.

how many people die each day
China and India both see more than 25,000 total deaths per day, due to their large populations.

However, with 34.7 daily deaths per million people each day, Russia has the highest deaths proportional to population out of any of these countries.

Keeping Perspective

While these numbers help provide some context for the global scale of COVID-19 deaths, they do not offer a direct comparison.

The fact is that many of the aforementioned death rates are based on much larger and consistent sample sizes of data. On the flipside, since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, daily confirmed deaths have fallen in a wide range between 272 and 10,520 per day—and there is no telling what could happen in the future.

On top of this variance, data on confirmed COVID-19 deaths has other quirks. For example, testing rates for the virus may vary between jurisdictions, and there have also been disagreements between authorities on how deaths should even be tallied in the first place. This makes getting an accurate picture surprisingly complicated.

While it’s impossible to know the true death toll of COVID-19, it is clear that in some countries daily deaths have reached rates 50% or higher than the historical average for periods of time:

excess deaths covid-19

Time, and further analysis, will be required to determine a more accurate COVID-19 death count.

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