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06 February 2015

Hitting the Jackpot vs being Hit by a Meteor?

Meteor Strikes - What are the Odds?

In February's What are the Odds? I'll check out which is more astronomical - hitting the jackpot or getting hit by a meteor?  

Meteor Strikes - What are the Odds?

Are the odds of winning a Euromillions jackpot quite as astronomical?

This is a tricky one - yes, you would have to be tremendously lucky to win a jackpot at a lottery, and more so in one as popular and huge as the trans-nation Euromillions. Those odds have been calculated at a highly elusive 1 in 139 million, but then, you are betting on prize stakes as high as £160 million, and the same cost can also win you prizes across 12 more tiers with progressively better chances of returns. But, are these odds comparable to the almost unheard –of event of being hit by a meteor? Let’s find out!

Game of chances and hypothesis galore

If you thought Euromillions is a distant shot, being hit by a meteor is even more so (and quite literally so!). Also, the calculations should consider being hit alone versus being killed – since an asteroid can still land with enough impact and generate strong enough heat/ blast wave to destroy life within a 100 km radius – and it can still not fall directly on anyone.

Several astronomers and asteroid-nerds have made this calculation, with different assumptions on what constitutes a hit – you can be hit at home, and you can be hit outside it. (It’s just not safe anywhere these days!)

Amateur Math-geek Method 1 : By second-hand probability that your house is hit

This is the simplest of the lot. It assumes that about 500 meteorites strike the Earth each year on average. And then simply calculates the odds of an average house of size 2500 sq ft being ‘chosen’ out of the whole wide expanse of 5.49 quadrillion sq ft for a targeted house-collision by any of the 500 meteorites in a year – which comes to 1 in 2,196,267,379,587 any year.  For an average life-span of 80 years and 40,000 meteorites, that is still less at 1 in 176 trillion!

This skims over the issue of whether or not you are actually inside the house when the event happens, which would give us even lower odds. And 2500 sq ft is actually an awesomely big house to have, folks in cities live in apartments far smaller than this – add to it the complexity of multiple storeys etc.

Amateur Math-geek Method 2 : By random chance, by surface area occupied

This assumes Murphy’s Law, that if something can go wrong, it will. So, you can get hit by a meteor standing anywhere on the surface of the Earth. So, assuming the Earth has a surface area of 510,000,000 sq km, of which land accounts for 150,000,000 sq km and that a person occupies at least a sq meter (.000001 sq km) of space at any given time, that gives us a possible human casualty ‘universe set’ area totalling 150,000,000,000,000 sq m (150,000 bn). Now, if we assume a population of 7 bn spread out over this maximum possible casualty area, that gives us a (7 bn sq m/ 150,000 bn sq m) chance or a 1 in 21,000 chance that there would be at least one person occupying a particular sq m at a given time which is likely to be hit.

Assuming any one of the 500 meteors can hit the place in a year, and assuming an average human lifespan of 80 years with 40,000 possible personal meteor collisions, the probability of getting hit by a meteor once in a lifetime is 1 in 40,000. That can compound the odds of being hit by a meteorite in a lifetime to (1/21,000)X(1/40,000) or 1 in 840,000,000.

And that is taking a very simplistic approach, even the 500 meteorites per year we consider for our quick calculations may be a gross over-estimation. A 1996 scientific study by P.A. Bland published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical estimates “between 36 and 166 meteorites larger than 10 grams to fall to Earth per million sq km per year. Over the whole surface area of Earth, that translates to 18,000 to 84,000 meteorites bigger than 10 grams per year. But most meteorites are too small to actually fall all the way to the surface.”

What NASA has to say about it

NASA maintains a risk table for all ‘Near Earth Objects’ that calculates their likelihood of impact for the next 100 years, where asteroids are plotted on the Torino Scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least risk-point and 10 the maximum. Currently, nothing on the table is above a 1, which means an actual impact is calculated as ‘extremely unlikely’. So, large-scale death by asteroid can be pretty much checked off the list. The biggest risk is from Asteroid 2011AG5, which is 140 metres across and has a cumulative impact probability of around 2% between 2040 and 2047.

Past Events

Ann Hodges of Alabama, USA was the only person in recent times to be actually hit by a meteorite. And by recent, we are talking about 1954. The 4-kg meteorite crashed through the roof of her rental home, bounced off a radio, and struck a sleeping Ann Hodges. It burnt her hip in a pineapple sized mark, but did not do any permanent damage. Of course, the meteorite did finally takes its toll on the family in the end, thanks to the ensuing global media frenzy and the 3-way legal circus on ownership of the celestial rock involving their landlady and the US military. Anne later suffered a nervous breakdown, separated from her husband in 1964 and died in 1972 at the age of 52.

Commenting on this incident, Michael Reynolds, author of the book Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors & Meteorites says "Think of how many people have lived throughout human history, you have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time."

Since the Hodges incident, there have been very few accounts of individuals struck by a meteorite. In 1992, a boy in Mbale, Uganda was hit in the head by a 3-gm fragment of a meteorite after bouncing off a banana tree.  A German teenager got a small burn from a pea-sized meteorite in 2009 before it bounced off and created a tiny crater on the ground.

How to Avoid being Hit

If those odds are still not enough to put your worries to rest, take extra precautions to ensure you are absolutely asteroid/meteorite safe. So, keep an eye out for asteroid passing news and dates of meteor showers – and stay indoors. And sleep standing up to minimize the surface-area you occupy, just kidding!

Or if you get put off by the lottery jackpot odds, and think you stand to gain better being hit by a meteorite and selling it off for a pretty penny, you might choose to stand on the roof on these occasions and wait to be it by space-rock! But don’t say we didn’t warn you - the lottery’s a better bet.

Which one should you be looking out for?

It’s in the stars if it happens to you, either one of them. Consider it this way - either of these events have rather lows probabilities of happening in your lifetime, however, you will hear of more people winning a jackpot at Euromillions every year – there have been 299 jackpot winners in the 11 years since it started, averaging out to 27 jackpot winners per year.  

Real occurrences versus predictions

Anne Hodge’s freak non-fatal meteorite hit apart, there has been nothing in documented history that points to death by celestial accident.  Sure, the dinos got mass-wiped out (that was good for us though, right?) in an alleged asteroid collision a billion years ago, rubble from aborted/unsuccessful satellite and space missions have been known to fall back on Earth, an asteroid did land in Russia in 2012 and injured some 1200 people indirectly on impact. Shooting star events and small burnt-out rock particles from outer space enter Earth every day and are reduced to harmless star-dust every day. A meteorite hit that injures or kills, however, is an extremely rare phenomenon – and that is understating it by a very long shot!

Who wins the method consistency game

At least, lottery jackpot odds can be calculated with simple and straight-forward mathematics, and involve not even a fraction of the mind-boggling T&Cs or the infinite number of threats and possibilities that come into the picture for a statistical likelihood calculation of an asteroid hitting or killing an Average Joe.


It’s a much better proposition to be inspired by odds that positively reinforce life and luck, than get troubled by far-fetched speculations and morbid doomsday thoughts which you can hardly do anything about. Better to pass on the scary hit-by-meteor number-crunching to the government guys and hope that our scientists get enough funding to bring those odds down even more; while you have a go at the next game and see for yourself if those odds are really so terrible!

With odds of the lowest prize slotted at 1:8, you might easily win a few quid, earn back the tcost and more, and get to live the excitement of the game itself – which isn’t a bad deal at all. And we can safely assume you will not get killed by a malicious meteor on your way to the shops what with those out-of-the-world odds, which you can further reduce by betting online with Lottoland!


One of the parts of my job which I enjoy the most is getting the chance to explore the nuances of different international lottery markets. In my articles I try to look not only how lottos and lotto players around the world differ from one another but also uncover the underlying reasons for the contrast.

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