Meteorite Strike Insurance: Necessity or Luxury?

A burning piece of space debris, probably a meteorite, fell on the roof of a house in East Delhi’s Gandhinagar area on November, 28th 2011. The burning meteorite piece first struck the roof and fell on the balcony setting some clothes, a water jar and a bike on fire.

Neighbours and the house owner rushed with pails of water to douse the flame. The object was so hot that it even burnt a portion of the wall! Fortunately no one was injured.

This news item set me thinking – if the house owner was injured / to the damaged house – will the insurer pay? The following article examines precisely the same issue.  Please Read On!!!

Will insurance companies provide a proviso on their personal risk insurance for a phenomenon that boarder on the “Act of God”?

Throughout recorded history, only one person has been documented to having been hit by a meteorite from space. Fortunately, she survived. Because of this, opinions have always been divided in the insurance underwriters’ community whether the incident with Mrs.

Hewlett Hodges should have been treated as a “freak occurrence.” She was extremely lucky though to have survived by being hit with a 3 kg fragment that pierced her roof and struck her left side. But first let us define which is which.

What is a Meteorite?

When the “rock” is still moving through the vacuum of space, it’s called a meteoroid.

When the “rock” is glowing “pyrotechnically” as it enters the earth’s atmosphere, it’s called a meteor. When the said “rock” or “object” hits the earth surface, a house, or other unfortunate soul, it’s called a meteorite.

These are the natural ones, while the increasingly commercial utilization of orbital space has created the problem of “space junk” that are the by – products of the launch of communication satellites which is also a possible source of meteorite strike hazard.

Types of Meteorites:

Concerns over the possibility of humans being injured or killed when hit by a meteorite strike becomes a topic of conversation during the annual meteor shower season  – August to November every year. These annual meteor showers occur in streams with established orbits. These meteor showers are named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate.

Like the recent Perseid meteor shower that occurs in early August, which the one that occurred this year received heavy press coverage because of the ideal “viewing” conditions appear to radiate in the constellation Perseus.

In late October the Orionid meteor shower will be radiating in the constellation of Orion.

Though most of us prefer the Leonid meteor shower because it’s occurrence from mid – to -late November in the constellation Leo are more likely to provide an ideal “viewing” conditions from our regular vantage point. Recent scientific studies have shown that all recurrent meteor showers are mostly composed of debris left in the wake of comets, past or present.

The Only Insurer:

Currently, Lloyds of London are the only known major insurance company that provides services on meteorite strike insurance policies. But the firm seriously advises anyone planning to purchase their meteorite strike “policies” to “think it over thoroughly” because these are somewhat expensive and meteorite strikes are statistically evaluated to a degree that their occurrence -in an average human lifetime- borders on the nonexistent.

What is “Act of God”?

In the UK, meteor strikes (as written on their Webpage) are generally defined as an “Act of God.” According to the Website of Car Insurance in the UK ( which defines “Act of God”; as an event not caused directly by an individual that causes damage to vehicle. An example (albeit an unlikely one) would be a meteorite strike. More often than not, “Acts of God” are uninsurable.

Failure of Insurers

While the “budget” side of the insurance industry doesn’t do business when it comes to insuring our person and property against meteorite strike insurance. There is also the rigmarole that they also fail to classify meteorites that are made by man i.e. spent rocket parts and other by-products of space travel and commerce (communication satellite launches) from those that are natural i.e. left over material from the creation of our solar system. Most of these insurance companies just classify these occurrences / incidents under the “Act of God” clause.

For all intents and purposes, it is in the insurance companies’ best interest to provide an insurance proviso on meteorite strikes, especially objects that are a product of the commercial utilization of space like the regular launching of communication satellites used for cellular phone and Internet data traffic. The profits generated by this activity has the mathematical equitability to make the meteorite insurance proviso economically viable to the average prospective client.

The Inconceivable Risk:

If the asteroid Apophis were to collide with Earth 25 years from now, it would strike with the force of 57,000 Hiroshima bombs. The aircraft-carrier-size rock has the power to wipe out a city of the size of New Delhi and cause a 30-foot tsunami to hit Mumbai. There is only a 1 in 5,500 chance of impact, but it is a chance that NASA is not willing to take. What will the insurers do and how do they secure themselves against such a risk – God only knows.

The space agency outlined a three-phase plan to observe, track, and deflect the rogue rock over the next two decades. This is based on the new radar readings-taken by the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico-that eliminated all potential collision dates with the exception of one. In 2029, Apophis will pass within 20,000 miles of Earth, so close that our planet’s gravitational pull will alter the asteroid’s orbit and possibly send it hurtling toward Earth. Predicted impact date:  Sunday the April 13, 2036 – this day happens to be Easter!

Twenty Five years may sound as a lot of time, but NASA’s new plan makes it very close. Apophis’s orbit will put it back within range of the Arecibo telescope in January 2013. In NASA’s best-case scenario, the new radar data will rule out the possibility of an impact altogether. If not, we are on to phase two: Plant a radio transponder on Apophis in 2019, and track the asteroid’s trajectory for a full year. If the asteroid is still a threat, an unmanned spacecraft will rendezvous with Apophis by 2028 and shotgun a kinetic-energy impactor into the space rock to nudge it off course.

The only problem is, there is not much room for error-after 2029, the asteroid would have to be moved too great a distance to avert a cosmic collision. This is one mission NASA will have to do just right. Otherwise, the unprepared insurers will be wiped away from the face of earth – the way many became after WTC attacks.

By: Dr. K. Raja Gopal Reddy, Published in “The Insurance Times”, August, 2012

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