Friday, February 15, 2013

Meteor explodes over Russia, creates sonic boom and injures hundreds or more (Video)

Technology means that scientists are getting better at detecting asteroids that may narrowly miss Earth, or even someday impact our home planet, but we still have not defined sure-fire technology to prevent such an impact, even if we see it coming, nor do we see everything. On Friday, humans were reminded of that, as a meteor streaked through the atmosphere and exploded Friday over Russia's Ural Mountains, causing a sonic boom and injuring over 750 people.

Again showing how technology and social media has changed our lives, and the reporting of news, an amateur video is making the rounds (embedded). Other reports include audio of the sonic boom, as well.

According to a statement from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the meteor, which they estimated to be about 10 tons, entered the Earth's atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph. It shattered at about 18-32 miles above the ground, in a manner similar to the famous Tunguska incident that took place in 1906.

The meteor released several kilotons of energy, equivalent to a small atomic blast, above the Chelyabinsk region, the academy said. In comparison, the Hiroshima bomb which the U.S. dropped in World War II was measured at 15 kilotons, and the recent North Korean test was approximately seven kilotons.

Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million about 930 miles east of Moscow said:
There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people's houses to check if they were OK. We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound.
Bill Nye the "Science Guy", executive director of the Planetary Society, called the meteor a warning shot across Earth's bow, but added that the meteor was in no way related to asteroid 2012 DA14. Speaking to CNN, he said:
The warning is, keep watching the skies. Now, this asteroid, which is unrelated but related, is asteroid 2012 DA14, and it was discovered by a grant from the Planetary Society (which, again, Nye is the executive director of).

These amateur astronomers have gotten very good at looking for these things, so we know about 1 percent of them. So there's another 99 percent of these objects that could destroy a city that we really don't know where they are or how fast they're going or whether they're going to cross the Earth's orbit or not.

This little thing over Russia is a warning shot, a warning to us humans. If we had enough warning, if we had several years warning, we could do something about it. We have the spacecraft technology [to] slow it down or speed it up just ever so slightly, and it would miss us.
Scientists are still searching for technology to do just that -- slightly change the trajectory of an asteroid so it will miss us, if in fact it turned out to be on a collision course with Earth.

Future near-misses such as Apophis, which is set to closely pass by Earth in the years to come, and 2012 DA14, have focused attention on how we humans can protect ourselves.

In one novel approach, Sung Wook Paek, an MIT graduate student, earlier theorized that paintballs could be used to change the solar reflectivity of an asteroid, changing its trajectory just enough to miss Earth.

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