A small object from space exploded over Russia last night. The object was believed to have weighed about 10 tons. It did an incredible amount of damage, for something so small.
A terrifying meteorite shower left more than 950 people injured, buildings devastated and the mobile network wiped out when it hit Russia this morning.
Brightly burning rocks could be seen for miles as they crashed at around 9.20am local time and one bystander described it ‘like a scene from the Armageddon movie.’
The meteorite is believed to have landed in a lake near Chebarkul, a town in the neighbouring Chelyabinsk region.
The city of Chelyabinsk, 900 miles east of Moscow and close to the Kazakhstan border, took the brunt of the super sonic impact.
This object, most likely a small asteroid, was small by space standards. The one that will near-miss earth this afternoon is far larger. If that object struck the ground in an urban area, it could wipe out much of a large city.
Talking about such a strike is one thing. Seeing it is quite another.
Reports so far indicate that more than 500 people were injured. Several buildings in the strike zone have been heavily damaged.
The last time earth experienced a strike of this magnitude was in 1908. A space object exploded over the lightly populated Tunguska region of Siberia, destroying forests for miles around. Today’s object was only about 10 tons, nowhere near the size of the Tunguska object or the asteroid that will near-miss earth this afternoon.
Years ago, before I became a pundit, I worked on NASA’s Hubble project. During that time I produced and wrote a multimedia exhibit for museums about Tunguska and the threat posed by near-earth space objects. Tunguska has spawned a century of research about space threats. We’ll see a hasty scramble now as scientists rush to get to Russia to determine the nature and composition of the 2013 object as best as they can.
Update: There are reports that the meteorite created a 20-foot crater. Wow.
More updates on next page.
Update: In case you’re wondering where Chelyabinsk is.
Update: The Guardian reports more than 950 injuries.
To put all this in some perspective, the asteroid that will buzz us today is about the same size as the object that struck Tunguska in 1908 — about 220 million pounds, more or less. The afterglow from that strike was visible across Europe. The asteroid that actually struck in Chelyabinsk today was probably only about 10 tons. A speck, by space standards. But it struck at about 33,000 miles per hour. Most of it burned up in the atmosphere, and the friction and pressure in the atmosphere caused it to explode during its descent. Most of it never reached the ground.
If the near-miss asteroid was on a slightly different trajectory and entered the earth’s atmosphere, most of it would burn up too, but it could still wipe out a city.
Update: So, how close will Asteroid 2012 DA14 actually get to earth today? Astronomers say it will pass within about 17,000 miles of us. Our GPS satellites orbit at about 12,000 miles. Most geostationery satellites orbit at about 22,000 miles up. So 2012 DA14 will pass within the orbits of those man-made satellites, and well within the Moon’s orbit. So, in space terms, way too close. But not close enough to do any damage.
Update: I just found this video of the Russia impact on YouTube. You can hear the explosion and even glass shattering.
Update: I bet these folks are fielding a lot of calls today.
Obama announces he won’t build a Death Star, and an asteroid hits the Earth? Even aliens don’t respect his foreign policy.
— Brodigan (@brodigan) February 15, 2013
Also read: Russian Army Finds Space Rock Impact Sites