Almost Impossible: What Are The Odds?

Humans are often pretty bad at understanding probability. If a coin flip lands on tails 50 times in a row, the odds of it landing heads on the next toss remain the same, despite what many would assume. With unlikely or impossible-sounding events, the odds become even harder to fathom. We dive into the odds of some exceedingly unlikely events.

Struck by lightning twice

Getting struck by lightning is rare. For it to happen twice is almost impossible. But it has happened to a few unlucky people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The chances of having 300 million volts rain down upon you twice in your lifetime is said to be one in nine million. 

A lightning strike near a tree.

A lightning strike near a tree. Photo: Savvapanf Photo/Shutterstock


In 1992, lightning struck Beth Peterson during a very powerful thunderstorm while she was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia. “I felt myself leaving my body, looking down at myself as one of the guards tried to revive me,” she told The Guardian.

Peterson experienced immense pain and also suffered from PTSD for a long time after. She had trouble doing basic things like writing. After recovering with time and therapy, lightning struck her again…on the same day exactly a year later!

She suffered a plethora of injuries to her legs and jaw. The lightning damaged her blood vessels so badly that she had to have her toes amputated. But as wild as it sounds, Peterson’s case is not the only example of a double lightning strike.

Travel writer Rebecca Went survived two successive lightning strikes while on a trip to Recife, Brazil. Thankfully, she walked away relatively unscathed because of her rubber wetsuit. Another example took place in Texas when lightning struck Casey Wagner twice while he sheltered under a tree during a storm.

Finding a pearl in an oyster

The odds of finding a shiny, perfectly spherical pearl in an oyster is around 1 in 10,000. However, the odds are much better than winning the lottery, giving people a strong incentive to cultivate their own oysters and harvest pearls. The odds of finding a pearl that makes you a life-changing fortune is much lower though, roughly one in a million.

In 2018, two New Yorkers found a tiny pearl in their oyster while dining out. But their initial excitement soon turned to disappointment when experts valued the pearl at approximately $200. The value of a pearl goes down when it is misshapen, not shiny, or too small.

Pearls in an oyster.

Pearls in an oyster. Photo: Ron Ramtang/Shutterstock


A mollusk creates a pearl after a foreign substance makes its way into the inside of the shell. This foreign element can be a grain of sand or a tiny piece of food. The mollusk then creates a hard substance over that foreign body which turns into a pearl. This process takes up to four years to complete. 


Finding a four-leaf clover

As the superstition goes, you must be lucky to find a four-leaf clover. The odds bear the superstition out. It’s a 1 in 10,000 chance.

Four-leaf clovers are so rare because they are a genetic anomaly. Normal clovers have three leaves. This mutation possibly evolved from changes in the environment or from recessive genes within the plant. If you’re hoping to get lucky, start by scanning a clover patch in your backyard. You can find roughly 10,000 clovers in a 1.2 square meter area.

A four-leaf clover.

Holding a four-leaf clover. Photo: Leigh Prather/Shutterstock


Finding a two-headed animal

Finding an animal with two heads is a 1 in 100,000 long shot. Polycephalic animals fall into the same category as human conjoined twins. Scientists note that the trend is more often seen in reptiles than mammals.

Polycephalic animals do not live very long. During their lifetime, the animals act independently of each other; they move their heads on their own and breathe on their own. “[They will even] fight each other over food, not realizing that whatever they eat is heading to the same digestive system,” scientist Martin Belam told The Guardian. 

A two-headed snake.

A two-headed snake. Photo: Andreas Wolochow/Shutterstock


Killed by a meteorite

The odds of dying from an outlandish scenario like this are around 1 to 840,000,000. The odds are so low because meteors usually burn up in our atmosphere and disintegrate before striking the Earth’s surface.

However, a few unlucky souls have had the misfortune to be struck by a meteorite. The first recorded incident took place in Iraq in 1888. Fast forward to 1954, an American woman named Anne Hodges narrowly escaped death when an 8.5lb meteorite crashed through the ceiling of her living room, injuring her leg.  

A meteor shower.

A meteor shower. Photo: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock


Gamma-ray exposure

The odds of gamma rays hitting Earth are one in one billion. The hottest and most energetic objects in the universe, such as neutron stars and pulsars, supernova explosions, and regions around black holes all produce gamma rays. They are exceptionally powerful and could destroy our atmosphere, leading to a mass extinction event.

Thankfully, a gamma-ray burst event has not occurred anywhere near us. However, scientists do believe it could have happened near our planet billions of years ago. If a gamma-ray burst occurred today, it could completely destroy our bodies, right down to our DNA.

gamma ray illustration

A gamma-ray illustration. Photo: Sakkmesterke/Shutterstock


Attacked by a shark

The odds of a shark attacking you are extremely low, one in 3.7 million, according to the Florida Museum. Movies have led some people to believe that sharks actively hunt humans. But when shark attacks do happen, it is usually a case of mistaken identity, such as when sharks mistake surfers for seals.

You can reduce your chances of becoming shark food by wearing a shark repellent, not swimming with open wounds, and not splashing in the water.

A man and a shark

Man and shark. Photo: Mickes Photos/Shutterstock


Killed by a vending machine

Strangely enough, you have more chance of dying this way than of winning the lottery, with odds of one in 112 million.

But how exactly does a vending machine kill someone? Typically, it is when someone rocks or tilts a machine. Since 1978, vending machines have killed 37 people who have tried to free snacks or drinks from inside. Vending machines also cause almost 2,000 injuries per year.

A vending machine warning sign

Vending machine warning sign. Photo: Stephen Finn/Shutterstock


Death by toilet

Toilets cause approximately 42 deaths every year. Deaths include tragic, freak accidents such as slipping and hitting one’s head, or small children falling in and drowning. In the Victorian era, toilets sometimes exploded!

There are also several famous deaths while on the latrine, such as Elvis Presley and King George II. The chance of being injured by a toilet is one in 10,000. 

A toilet.

Toilets cause roughly 42 deaths every year. Photo: New Africa/Shutterstock

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer at ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.