Ministry of the
Solicitor General

Hazard Identification Report 2019 - Section C - Extraterrestrial


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Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment Program

Hazard Identification Report 2019
Section C: Extraterrestrial Hazards

Office of the Fire Marshal & Emergency Management


The Hazard Report contains information profiles for hazards, including a high-level overview of possible consequences. It is divided into 10 parts; an introduction and 9 sub-sections labelled A-I as follows:

  1. Agriculture and Food
  2. Environmental
  3. Extraterrestrial
  4. Hazardous Materials
  5. Health
  6. Public Safety
  7. Structural
  8. Supply and Distribution
  9. Transportation


Space Object Crash

Go to next hazard: Space Weather


A space object crash is any event in which a natural or human-made object falls to the earth. It may either impact the surface or produce an air burst in which the object explodes while travelling through the atmosphere.[1]


Space Objects include:[2]

  • Human-made Satellites: Machines launched into space to orbit Earth. They are used for many purposes, including to study the earth and solar system, transmit radio signals, and predict weather.
  • Orbital debris: Any human-made object in orbit about the Earth which no longer serves a useful function.
  • Comet: Comets are bodies of ice, rock, and organic compounds that can be several miles in diameter.
  • Asteroid: In space, a large rocky body in orbit about the Sun is referred to as an asteroid or minor planet.
  • Meteoroid: a small chunk of rock or iron that travels through space.
  • Meteor: Once an asteroid or other object such as a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor (i.e., shooting star).
  • Meteorite: A rocky or metallic body from an asteroid or a meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth's atmosphere and lands upon the Earth's surface.

Space objects have collided with the Earth in the past and will continue to do so in the future, though large impacts are rare. The vast majority of space objects are small enough to burn up in the atmosphere if they come close to earth, and do not reach the surface.

If objects do reach the surface, they can lead to local destruction on land and significant waves in the ocean (even tsunamis for large objects, though this is unlikely). It is estimated that an object greater than 50m in diameter impacts the Earth’s surface approximately every 100 years. An impact of this size would be disastrous on a local scale.

The Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) at the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has the most comprehensive tracking program for space objects above a Torino Scale level of 0 – indicating nominal risk, called the Sentry program.[3], [4]

The number of human-made objects in space began with the launch of Sputnik 1in 1957. These objects pose a far lower risk than natural space object events, primarily because of their small size and relatively predictable nature. The risk of radiological or chemical exposure from space objects is also extremely small.[5]

Spatial Scale, Timing, Warning Period

Spatial Scale: The size of the impact area varies greatly depending on factors such as the size of the object and the speed at which the object is traveling.

Timing: A natural space object crash can occur at any time of the year.

Warning Period: Estimates of the amount of warning vary considerably from months to no warning at all.

Past Incidents

On February 15, 2013 a meteor exploded in the sky over Chelyabinsk, southern Russia. Although no people or buildings were hit by the resulting meteorite, the shockwave from the exploding object injured about 1500 people and caused damage to 7200 buildings in the region. The fireball and was caught on video, mainly by dash cameras throughout the region, which were posted on the internet by news organizations individuals.

Here are no other apparent modern incidents.

Potential Impacts

Property and structural damage, the need for repair. Possible impact on Critical Infrastructure.

  • Injury or death. May strain the health system and response resources.
  • Reports of missing individuals. The need for search and rescue, family reunification operations
  • Multi-modal transport disruptions, the need for detours or re-routing. May strain transportation management resources and cause transportation delays.
  • The need for damage assessment.
  • The need for debris management
  • The need for evacuation or shelter in place.
  • The need for emergency provision of essential needs, including food.

Secondary Hazards

  • Explosion/Fire
  • Building/Structural Collapse
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Oil/Natural Gas Emergency
  • Wildland Fire

Provincial Risk Statement

Human Impacts

Near the epicentre of an impact, it is likely that there would be a large number of fatalities and few, if any, survivors. Further from the epicentre, fewer fatalities and more injuries can be expected. Fires started from falling debris and ruptured gas lines may result in additional fatalities and injuries. The odds of an object of this magnitude affecting a settlement or population centre are extremely small.

Social Impacts

The secondary hazards of a space object crash would cause strain on support networks and social structures.

Property Damage

Property is vulnerable to a space object crash. The impact, fireball, and shockwave can all cause property damage.

Critical Infrastructure Disruptions

Critical infrastructure would also be severely damaged. The severity of the damage will decrease with distance from the epicentre.


Depending on the size and trajectory of the object, environmental damage may be localized or have global impacts. It is widely believed that space object impacts have caused mass extinctions in the past. Impacts large enough to trigger mass extinctions would likely have long term impacts on the environment such as the altering of the climate. Debris ejected into the atmosphere could block sunlight, jeopardizing plant life, which would in turn threaten animal life. Water bodies could become contaminated with ash and debris, harming aquatic ecosystems.


A large event would have a severe economic impact, depending on the location of the impact. Power outages in areas away from the epicentre would further increase the severity of the interruption.

Space Weather

Go to Previous Hazard: Space Object Crash (natural or human-caused)


A collection of physical processes, beginning at the Sun and ultimately affecting human activities on Earth and in space.[6]


The sun is the main source of space weather. The effects of space weather can range from damage to satellites to disruption of power grids on Earth.[7]

Eruptions of plasma from the sun's atmosphere called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and sudden bursts of radiation called solar flares, can cause space weather effects at or near Earth. Solar wind is a stream of energized, charged particles flowing outward from the Sun. Solar storms can be generated by solar wind conditions sustained for several to many hours at high-speed.

A measure called 'Planetary geomagnetic disturbance index' (Kp) is used to inform the NOAA Space Weather 'G-Scale' (Geomagnetic Storm Scale); this describes space weather that can disrupt systems on Earth. It measures the currents, magnetic deviations of storms and magnetic disturbances at ground level.[8]

Susceptibility to space weather will grow with time along with dependency upon technologies for both civilian and defence purposes. Outages have been recorded, including in December 2006 when a solar radio burst affected GPS receivers globally.[9],[10]

Whilst space weather could affect a wide range of common activities, there are specific industries that are more exposed to the treat of space weather. These include:

  • Energy Industry: Geomagnetic storms can cause rapid variations in the Earth's magnetic field which, in turn, induce an electric field in the Earth's surface. This electric field induces electrical currents in long conductors like power lines causing voltage instability and the risk that transformers burn out.
  • Aviation, satellite, communications and transportation industries: damage to satellites and impacts on performance, and interrupts GPS and communications systems. Radio blackouts and loss of long distance communication are also potential impacts[11].
  • Pipelines: Variations of the Earth's magnetic field induce electric currents in long conducting pipelines and surrounding soil. These time-varying currents, named "telluric currents" in the pipeline industry, create voltage swings in the systems used to control the corrosion of pipes.

The Geomagnetic Laboratory of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is the Government of Canada’s headquarters for the Geomagnetic Monitoring Service and the Canadian Space Weather Forecast Centre. Regional and local impacts of space weather are communicated by NRCan to the appropriate government and industry partners.

Forecasts of severe space weather enables industry to take protective actions to reduce their vulnerability, including:

  • divert or cancel airline flights,
  • Adjust electrical grids
  • Issue alerts for navigation services
  • Change satellites to low-power safe modes and shut down critical or vulnerable components

The government of Canada also supports research and studies to better understand the impact of space weather on Canadian infrastructure.[12] This includes improvements to forecasting and modelling capabilities, supporting industry partners in vulnerability assessments infrastructure protection[13].

Recent trends are increasing exposure and vulnerability to this risk. Such activities include joining power grids to allow for long-distance transmission of low-cost power, and the widespread use and reliance on fibre-optic cable internet.

Spatial Scale, Timing and Warning Period

Spatial Scale: Geomagnetic storms are a large scale hazard capable of impacting several provinces or even countries.

Timing: Geomagnetic storms can occur at any time but are more likely during periods of increased solar activity.

Warning Period: A few days warning is common.

Potential Impacts

Potential impacts of such storms include:

  • Property and structural damage, the need for repair. Possible impact on Critical Infrastructure.
  • Interference with radio wave and electrical systems. Possible impact on Critical Infrastructure.
  • Pipeline Corrosion.
  • Loss of data possible.
  • Possible loss of electronic payment and debit machines. The need for financial assistance.
  • Multi-modal transport disruptions, the need for detours or re-routing. May strain transportation management resources and cause transportation delays.

Secondary Hazards

  • Energy Supply Emergency
  • Utility failures
  • Agricultural and Food Emergency
  • Drinking Water Emergency
  • Transportation Emergency
  • Cyber threats (including data loss)

Past Incidents

Historical records have shown that the strongest geomagnetic storm in recent history was the Carrington event in 1859, before widespread electrical technology was used. This storm caused telegraph disruptions and widespread vivid auroras. If an event of this magnitude occurred in today’s society with its dependence on technology, it would cause much more severe and widespread damage.

Provincial Risk Statement

The frequency of solar storms of a magnitude which could cause catastrophic damage is low. However, Canada remains among the most at risk, especially given the nations' northern exposure and the great distances between cities. Given the primary risks are to communication, transportation and energy supply, extreme solar storm events are likely to both directly and indirectly affect the province and its economy.

Human Impacts

Risk related to space weather is linked to the supply of electricity, communications and resources affected by pipeline delivery systems. Therefore, those who are more dependent on these resources are more vulnerable. This includes those who are dependent on electrical and technological medical devices.

Social Impacts

Social impacts are linked to the supply of electricity, communications and resources affected by pipeline delivery systems. Cohesiveness of local communities would play a significant role in the ability of people to cope with such resources.

Property Damage

Industrial equipment may be affected by space weather. This includes increased possibility of pipeline corrosion due to telluric currents.

Critical Infrastructure Disruptions

Solar weather activity has the potential to lead to extremely large-scale effects,. For example, the effects of a strong geomagnetic storm can damage electronics and communications systems over a wide area. Repairing damage to infrastructure at this scale would be extremely complex and may require national or international assistance.

The scale of damage and time required to restore power, transportation, water service, technology, and other critical systems could be lengthy due to the complexity of the outage and the interconnected and interdependent systems. Rebooting entire networks of utilities takes time and careful planning to ensure the integrity of the systems is maintained.

Environmental Damage

The environment is not known to be particularly vulnerable to geomagnetic storms. Some species, such as migratory birds, may be negatively affected but it is unknown if this hazard would cause harm to such species.


Severe space weather could have severe consequences for Canada and the region, including secondary effects of internet and power outages, as well as disruption of critical financial centres such as the Toronto Stock Exchange.

End Notes

[1] Rumpf, Clemens M.; Lewis, Hugh G.; Atkinson, Peter M. 2017. Asteroid impact effects and their immediate hazards for human populations". Geophysical Research Letters. 44 (8): 3433–3440.

[2]National Geographic, 2017. Orbital Objects.

[3] Center for Near Earth Object Studies, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Accessed June 2018.

[4] NASA, Planetary Defense Coordination Office. accessed December 2018.

[5] NASA 2013. Space Debris and Human Aircraft.

[6] Natural Resources Canada, Space Weather Canada. What is Space Weather? 2018. Accessed July 2018.

[7] Canadian Space Agency, Forecasting Space Weather in Canada 2012.

[8] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Space Weather Prediction Center 2017. Geomagnetic Storms. Accessed July 2018.

[9] The Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 14, No. 4, Autumn 2014.

[10] The Infrastructure Resilience Research Group (IR2G), Carleton, Vol 1 Issue 5.

[11] The Met Office, Space Weather Impacts 2016.
. Accessed June 2018.

[12] Canadian Space Agency, Space Weather 2017.
. Accessed June 2018.

[13] Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 7451.