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Russia's Meteor Problem

Posted February 21, 2013 6:47 AM by HUSH

There is an old Russian idiom that goes along the lines of: "The pessimists say it cannot get any worse, but the optimists say, yes it can!" Based on that phrase, I assume Russians in Chelyabinsk were unfazed when confronted with the meteorite that streaked across their morning sky on February 15. Sure there's fire in the sky today, but at least it's not Valentine's Day again! (Forgive my burgeoning Yakov Smirnoff impression.)

I'm absolutely sure that you've heard about this meteor by now, but to help illustrate the event here are some related videos: Russians running from exploding glass; people in parking lot confused by lights and explosions; and dashcam footage of the meteor.

There are some sensible, lingering questions regarding this meteor event, which has a proposed name of the Chebarkul meteor. I've scoured the internet for some of the best, most-recent updates regarding this astronomical event.

What do we know about the Chebarkul meteor?

At the moment, very little; many news stories, government officials, and scientific reports have offered conflicting information.

However, scientists have drawn conclusions that the meteor was likely rocky in composition, due to the fact that it broke up in the atmosphere and created at least three different explosions. Meteorites, or fragments of a meteor, have been found scattered in southeast-central Russia and northern Kazakhstan (home to Borat). Sonic booms produced by the explosions splintered windows and damaged 4,000 buildings in the Russian oblast, as well as injuring 1,200 people.

The explosion from the meteor was: brighter than the sun, according to NASA; occurred between 20--30 miles above the Earth; and released 500 kilotons of energy into the upper atmosphere, triggering a 2.7 seismic event on the ground. By comparison, the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in World War II release 16 kilotons. The asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere at an estimated 33,000 miles per hour.

Estimates about the size of the meteor must make due, at least until Russian officials can better investigate a hole in a frozen lake reportedly made by a large fragment of the bolide. Most accounts believe the meteor was about 17 meters in diameter, but could have weighed between 10 11 tons and 100 10,000 tons. While speculative, most meteors are about 4.5 billion years old, so it's possible the Chebarkul meteor was much older than our planet.

Why didn't astronomers see this coming?

Many astronomers were preoccupied and had their underwear in knots over the upcoming appearance of 2012 DA14, which was an asteroid that was schedule to make incredibly close flyby of planet Earth later that day. Scientists have unanimously stated that there is no link between the meteor and asteroid, however.

Also, most celestial object tracking systems do not have the capability of tracking smaller-sized objects. While terrestrially large, its relative stature was minor compared to many other meteors, asteroids and comets. The east-west direction of the meteor in the early morning (it was simply too sunny) and shallow angle of entry helped it evade telescopic surveys.

Why Russia?

Russia seems to attract incoming meteors and asteroids. Recall from Asteroid Self-Defense the asteroid impact called the Tunguska Event, which is considered the most significant Earth impact ever. In 2002, Siberia also was home to the Vitim Event. Since Russia covers 11.6% of the world's landmass, it makes sense that a significant portion of the bolides lands within its territory (though most bolides land in the sea).

However, Russia's high latitude also contributes to its large numbers of meteorites. Meteorites occur more often in the morning than in the evening since the hemisphere that is waking up is the also the hemisphere that is leading Earth through its orbit. Due to seasons, the leading face of the Earth is also a higher latitude, and with a large portion of its population living at high latitudes Russia experiences (and therefore captures) a large number of bolides that land within the country.

What can be done about incoming impacts?

While Russian Prime Minister Dmitir Medvedev argued for an international ballistic measure to safeguard the planet from meteors and asteroids, readers of Asteroid Self-Defense will know that is probably not the best way to ensure a collision-free existence. Rather exploding a bomb near the asteroid, or another method to revise the bolide's trajectory, would be most effective.

Coincidentally, on the same day Russia's southern skies were less than meteor-free, the United Nations was announced the creation of the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects. Run by the organization's Office for Outer Space Affairs, the team's mission is to determine an international warning system for incoming bolides, brainstorm deflection methods, and mitigate catastrophes when impact is inevitable.

One of the team members, Dutch scientist Detlef Koschny, told SPACE.COM, "The day before we thought it is great timing that 2012 DA14 flies by in the evening … and were shocked when in the morning we learned about the Russia event. What a coincidence. Was this a cosmic warning shot? It makes you think."

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson echoed that sentiment: "Asteroids are nature's way of asking: 'How's that space program coming along?'"

Resources

(Image credits: Houston Press; Fox News; NPR; Space.com; Philip Coppens; Washington Post)

Wikipedia - 2013 Russian meteor event;

CBS News - United Nations reviewing asteroid impact threat

Popular Mechanics - Three Questions about the Russian Meteor

Popular Science - Space Rocks 101: What You Need to Know about the Russian Meteor

Cornell - Ask an Astronomer: Meteors...

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#1

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/21/2013 10:09 AM

This just in:

Putin rides again. it seems.

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#2

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/21/2013 11:27 PM

I agree with Tyson.

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#3

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/21/2013 11:46 PM

I have 7 dogs ranging in age from 5 months to 9 years who have all lived peacefully together their entire lives, most of whom are related to each other through 3 generations and they went totally berzerk getting in fights and nearly crippling each other before I could get them seperated that day and I live in SW Florida!

They act nervous when I'm in Tennessee and there is a small earthquake, 1-1.5, up there but nothing like last week.

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#4

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/22/2013 6:50 AM

Most accounts believe the meteor was about 17 meters in diameter, but could have weighed between 10 and 100 tons.

100 tons seems way too light for an object that size. A sphere 17 m in diameter has a volume of about 2500 m3. 100 tons is about 100,000 kg, putting its density at 40 kg/m3. Compare with water at 1gm/cm3 or 1000 kg/m3.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/22/2013 9:06 AM

I'm glad you commented; I'm not exempt from mistake. In my research many conflicting estimates were given and it likely won't be resolved until the Russians dig some meteorites out of the frozen lake mention in the article.

But estimates range from 10 tonnes (or 11 tons) to 10,000 tons. I've edited the entry to reflect my typo.

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#10
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/22/2013 9:22 PM

If the original weight estimate is correct, it should be floating on the lake ;)

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#9
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/22/2013 8:50 PM

lava rock

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#6

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/22/2013 2:09 PM

February 15, 2013 also saw a close encounter with a much larger asteroid, 2012-DA14. Is it a coincident to have the Russian incident at Chelyabinsk occur on the same date as 2012DA14 passed close to the earth? Do asteroids fly solo or are they more frequently found with partner asteroid(s) flying in near same orbital paths? If that is true then we should be more concerned about the possibility of a large asteroid strike in the not too distant future. There is an asteroid dubbed "Apophis" (after the Egyptian god of destruction) due to make a near miss in 2029 and again in 2036. If Apophis has partners(s) we should find out soon. A hidden partner may cause nothing but it also could cause another huge sonic boom or worse. Then again I may just be a chicken little yelling 'the sky is falling'.

It would be nice to know if there is any relationship on the two asteroids that came visited earth and nearby on February 15, 2013. Is this just a coincidence?

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#8
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/22/2013 8:35 PM

My first thought was that the two events were related. However I understand that they came from different directions and were actually separated by about a million miles, the distance the earth moves in the time between the events.

,

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#17
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/01/2013 11:07 AM

Thanks Rixter. Sorry for the late reply but I just checked my email for the first time in a while as I was away. You are correct according to NASA but that was still an incredible coincidence. Especially, when you think about the rare event of large close meteors. And then two significant sized asteroids within hours of each other, wow. Here is a simulation of the orbit of the Russian asteroid (meteor).

The question of asteroids travelling with partners is complicated but quite common according to NASA. The recent, 1995, Shoemaker-Levy asteroid that struck Jupiter was a string of orbiting asteroids that left powerful marks on Jupiter. I guess having Jupiter out there to vacuum the debris that may hit the inner planets is a lucky thing for us. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the earth can actually exist long enough to evolve life. Also I think astronomers may be more keen to scan the skies for partners after these recent occurrences.

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#16
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/01/2013 7:21 AM

My first thought was that the two events were related. However I understand that they came from different directions and were actually separated by about a million miles, the distance the earth moves in the time between the events.

,

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#7

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/22/2013 2:59 PM

"the Tunguska Event, which is considered the most significant Earth impact ever."

Ever? You mean ever in recorded history, perhaps? Otherwise, I think the dinosaurs would like to respectfully disagree.

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#11
In reply to #7

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/23/2013 3:19 AM

The 1908 Tunguska explosion was big by Human standards, but it doesn't garner even an Honorable Mention by historical standards. Yes, it was certainly the most significant meteor event in recorded history, but the Tunguska meteor (which was an airburst mainly, not an impact) was small-fry compared to some of the monsters that have devastated Earth in the distant (and not-so-distant) past.

Going from Bad to Worse, we have ...

10. The Barringer Crater, Arizona, US

Some 49,000 years ago a large nickel-iron meteorite 150 ft across, weighing several hundred thousand tons and traveling at about 40,000 miles per hour, hit Earth. The result of this meteor, the Barringer Crater, lies 55 km east of Flagstaff, Arizona The force generated by the impact was equal to the explosion of 20 million tons of TNT.

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9. Lake Bosumtwi Crater, Ghana, Africa

About 30 km southeast of Kumasi, Ghana, lies Lake Bosumtwi, the country's only natural lake. This crater is about 1.6 million years old and is a paltry six miles in diameter.

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8. Deep Bay, Canada

Situated near the south-western tip of Reindeer Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada, Deep Bay is an eight mile diameter (13km) crater caused by a asteroid impact about 100 million years ago.

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7. Aorounga Impact Crater, Chad

Aorounga is an eroded meteorite impact crater that formed 200-300 million years ago in an area of the Sahara Desert, northern Chad, in Africa, when a comet or asteroid one mile diameter (1.6 km across) struck Earth. Such impacts only happen roughly once every million years, on average. Five could strike tomorrow and none for five more million years, so don't relax just yet.

The crater is about 11 miles (17 km) across and is accompanied by two nearby circular features that have been revealed by the Space Shuttle's SIR-C radar which suggest Aorounga may be only one of a chain of impact craters. If so, this impact would've made quite a show. From space.

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6. Gosses Bluff, Australia

Ever the Lucky Country, Oz got its share of Deep Space too. Approximately 142 million years ago, a large asteroid or comet (approx. 22 km in diameter) crashed at 40 km/sec in the southern Northern Territory, near the center of Australia, with the energy of 22,000 one-megaton nukes. The Gosses Bluff crater is about 15 miles (24km) in diameter.

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5. Mistastin Lake, Canada

Located in Labrador, Canada, the Mistastin crater is the result of a meteorite impact 38 million years which blasted a 17.4 mile (28km) wide giant hole in the ground. Erosion by glaciers have since drastically reduced its size to what it is today. The meteorite struck at an angle, creating an elliptical crater measuring about 11 by 7 miles.

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4. Clearwater Lakes, Canada

Two circular lakes/impact craters on the Canadian Shield in Quebec formed simultaneously by the impact of an asteroid pair (originally a single object which split enroute) that smashed its way through Earth's crust 290 million years ago. The pair of craters are located near the eastern shore of Hudson Bay. The larger of the two craters is West Clearwater Lake with a 20 mile (32km) diameter, while the smaller one, East Clearwater Lake, has a 13.7 mile (22km) diameter.

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3. Kara-Kul Lake, Tajikistan

This 16 mile (25km) diameter crater is located in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, near China's border.

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2. Manicouagan Crater, Canada

The third jimongous Canadian crater in this series and a good reason to nix those plans to move to Canada. It'll be your last, I promise. This 3 mile (5km) wide asteroid arrived to wreck shop some 212 million years ago, blasting a 62 mile (100km) diameter hole through the Earth's crust and into the mantle, it was powerful enough to blow debris into orbit. The central feature was formed by a giant glob of the molten mantle upwelling to fill the hole, and then solidified into what it is today.

Manicouagan Reservoir (Lake Manicouagan), also known as the "eye of Quebec", is now an annular lake in central Quebec, Canada.

-----

1. Chicxulub Crater, Mexico

Buried underneath the Yucat√°n Peninsula in Mexico, near the Chicxulub village (which means "the tail of the devil" in Mayan) is the Mother of All Craters, Chicxulub. Weighing in at 105 miles (170 km) across, this crater is simply huge. The meteorite which produced it is widely believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, when the heat from the impact set continent-sized forests ablaze instantly in both North and South America. The smoke, dust and other debris resulting from the impact took anywhere from 30,000 and 80,000 years to settle out of the atmosphere, permanently altering Earth's climate meanwhile.

Traces of iridium from the vaporized city-sized asteroid have been found in layers of sediment all around the globe, having been dispersed into the atmosphere by the force of an explosion equivalent to 100,000 one-megaton nuclear bombs detonating simultaneously. (Tunguska explosion was around 10 megatons' equivalent TNT) The impact shattered the Earth's crust for a thousand miles in all directions and caused destructive mega-tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions all around the globe.

And for these ten known monster meteorite impacts, the Earth's oceans have experienced between 60 and 80 comparably-sized impacts over the same period. If you think landfall is nasty, wait'll you see what happens when they land in the ocean...

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/23/2013 4:39 AM

Wow!

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#14
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/24/2013 9:45 PM

Are there any theories on how much of our planets atmosphere was permanently blown away by all of these impact events?

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#15
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/25/2013 5:23 AM

Probably not a great deal of atmosphere, not anything compared to events on Mars about 3.5 billion years ago. The Hellas impact crater is 2400 miles in diameter - you could fit the entire U.S. inside it's rim. That impact, plus another one which left behind a 1,100-mile diameter crater, blew away much of Mars' atmosphere. The impacts were so violent they changed the shape of the planet - Mars is lopsided. Then later, after the planet lost its magnetic field, the Solar wind eventually blew away the rest. (When Earth's core cools and solidifies, Earth will lose its magnetic field as well and that will happen here, too.) Mars has vast areas - plains - which are exceptionally smooth. These areas may have once been the floors of Martian oceans - ones which boiled away following the Hellas impact.

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#13

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

02/24/2013 1:58 PM

Another smallish one

http://www.google.co.za/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=vredefort%20dome&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&sqi=2&ved=0CDcQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FVredefort_crater&ei=d2EqUePDAcyFhQf_7YH4Bg&usg=AFQjCNEaNTXDjfVcfuWxc4LfyCwwqvfWog

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#18

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/01/2013 11:22 PM

Ok, a Congressman from Texas wants a few millions of dollars to learn how to track errant meteorites so we can do something about them.

If we know the location of where every piece of space junk is in orbit around our planet no matter how small it is, why can't we use the existing technology to see space objects flying directly at us?

The human eye can even see a bullet coming directly at it.

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#19
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/02/2013 12:19 PM

"The human eye can even see a bullet coming directly at it."

I doubt that. The fastest nerves in the human body transmit at about 100 m/s. A rifle bullet travels about 10X faster than that. A pistol is about 3X faster.

That ignores the time it takes for cognitive action in the visual cortex to recognize an object.

At 3 feet, a pistol bullet will probably beat the impulse to the visual cortex. Maybe at larger distances, but the problem becomes one of recognizing a tiny, fast moving object, at greater and greater distances where perspective makes the object smaller and smaller.

Many people confuse seeing rifle bullets with the atmospheric thermal distortion the bullet makes as it transverses the air. You can't see the round, just the effect, which lingers much longer than the actual bullet.

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#22
In reply to #19

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/04/2013 8:31 PM

According to my neighbor Bill who was a door gunner on Huey's in Vietnam for two tours, you can see them. He saw the two rounds coming at him that hit him in the chest and put him on his back. He had just bailed out of his copter as it crashed when it snagged some underbrush while making a sliding landing with another copter to extract some guys caught in a fire fight. He jumped out with his 50 cal. and started putting cover fire in the direction of where the VC seemed to be. His pilot grabbed him and the gun, stuck the gun barrel in the ground and fired it to destroy the weapon and when Bill looked up, he said a young VC in uniform popped up out of the weeds about a hundred yards away and fired two rounds at him. He saw them coming at him very clearly. He survived because he had his metal flack plate stuck down his shirt and the rounds only broke some ribs.

I shot myself in the sternum one day while testing my High Standard Citation match pistol at a knot on pine fence pose with hollow point long rifle loads. It must have ignited the pine resin and fired itself back at me standing 75 feet away with only 4" of drop.

Also, when I used to play paintball with my brother and nephew who had guns with 650 fps capability I could dance around the paint balls coming at me from 80 feet away. They never beat me.

My reaction time even now is .26 of a second tested over and over to prove to my step son that old farts aren't necessarily slow. His best was .42 at half my age, lol.

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#23
In reply to #19

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/04/2013 11:06 PM

The optic nerve component lengths are 1 mm in the globe, 24 mm in the orbit, 9 mm in the optic canal, and 16 mm in the cranial space before joining the optic chiasm. That totals 50 mm or 0.5M. The speed of the nerve impulse in the optic nerve is as you said 100M/s so the image of the bullet coming at you from 100 meters away reaches the brain in 0.005 of a second. An AK-47 has a muzzle velocity of 716 M/s so if the guy who shot Bill was 50 meters away, the bullet got there in 0.07 of a second, more than enough time to see the bullet coming, but not enough time to react to it other than to think "Sh**.
I meant to say also that I could see the 22 slug coming back at me but was so amazed at the fact I just stood there immobilized which is what Bill said also, lol.
It looks like a black dot in a field of color and is very obvious what it is, you just don't have time to move out of the way.

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#24
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/05/2013 11:18 AM

I think the bullet is not what he saw, rather the atmospheric disturbance (vapor trail) of the bullet as it sailed through the air. Any rifle round (.22 excluded) will be going supersonic and a single object of that size, speed, and length is going to be darn near impossible to see.

However, the resulting vapor trail or disturbance in the atmosphere is many times the diameter and length, which is relatively easy to spot under the right conditions.

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#25
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/05/2013 8:34 PM

Well, whatever it is, you can see it coming!

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#20

Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/04/2013 7:12 PM

I found this to be extremely interesting and compelling in that it explains how there were multiple explosions that day with enough energy to do damage. I witnessed many "return to earth" missions of the space shuttle and not any of the sonic booms were that big. Here is the You Tube Video I watched that is very suspicious but could or not be real. Watch here.

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#21
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Re: Russia's Meteor Problem

03/04/2013 7:29 PM

Unless the "bullet" were shot from space or some aircraft (its trajectory was downward as was the asteroid), it does not make sense. It was travelling very fast and I do not know the velocity of a missile shot from and airplane. This thing was going 33000 mph. Can a missile go faster? I doubt it. And where was the plane?

My guess is that the object seems to exit the asteroid but may be a camera flaw. The only other explanation would be that the asteroid was breaking up. The larger pieces may meet more air resistance and some smaller pieces actually escaped due to shape and could travel faster that the main body of the asteroid. I do not for one minute believe it was shot down.

.

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