Russia — An asteroid penetrates the earth’s atmosphere and becomes a meteor. Friction creates the smoke that streaks across the sky. An explosion, the force of which blows out windows, signals its speed and its structural instability. Aside from the missile-like tail it leaves against the heavens, the sound itself resembles a momentary excursion into a war zone.
Such was the case early Friday morning when a 10-ton meteor shot across the Ural mountain region of western Russia, releasing a blast that amazed and shocked citizens below. The meteor reached a speed of 33,000 miles per hours. This exceeds 50 times the speed of sound at 50,000 feet. More than 37 times faster than a 747 Jumbo Jet. In its final moments, the sonic boom from the meteor breaking apart sent a scare into unsuspecting persons below. The disintegration occurred at a close range of 0-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above ground, spawning meteorites over a wide area.
Over 270 buildings sustained various levels of damages. According to RIA Novosti news agency, by noon 751 persons were receiving medical attention. Revised estimates now set the figure at approximately 1,000 injured. Many were injured by glass shattered by shock waves.
The very idea of these astronomical intrusions have some wondering, “Could we be next?”
As it turns out, meteoric breaches are quite common. According to NASA, 100 tons of meteoric gravel and dust enter the earth’s atmosphere each day. And meteors of notable size penetrate our atmosphere 10 times per year. This, however, is the first time in a century that a meteor the size of the one that hit Russia has made its way to earth. According to author Stuart Clark, scientists are most adept at tracking asteroids the size of 30 kilometers and above, but the situation is more complicated at smaller sizes:
This particular meteor came as a surprise to NASA that is currently focusing on another asteroid that will come 17,000 miles from earth.
However, the unforeseen aspect of today’s event is particularly disturbing to the scientific community. Typically, governments can plan measures to mitigate a dangerous meteor. One that enters the earth’s atmosphere unannounced greatly limits such measures. Consequently, observers will be waiting with anticipation to study the reports that are expected to emerge out of Russia once local authorities complete their investigations. Even at this early stage, the global community is responding to calls for more coordinated preparation.
“Astronomers feel confident that they know the whereabouts of every asteroid larger than 30 kilometres. Such space rocks have been the priority because they have the potential to cause global catastrophe and mass extinction events should they hit us. None are known to pose a threat.
Go down to objects sized one kilometre and astronomers think they know about 90-95% of them. However, at 50 metres, the size of 2012 DA14, the uncertainties really begin. Astronomers estimate that they know only 2 percent of these.”
The videos are remarkable. They show the massive amount of energy carried by this space rocks. After watching, let me hear your thoughts:
- How concerned are you about catastrophic astronomical events?
- Would you like to see something like the Russia meteor activity in-person?
- Should authorities have been more prepared to anticipate this event?
To my Ohio State University fellow alumni. Wolverines are plentiful in the Ural Mountains. Watch-out for charges that Ohio State sent the meteor to take out our arch enemy!
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