Look Out Below!
A blinding light, a sonic boom, and then crashes and shockwaves.
That was the scene in central Russia earlier today as a huge meteorite streaked across the sky and exploded. Estimated to weigh about 10 tons, the meteorite entered Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 33,000 miles per hour. And yes, you can see it on YouTube.
Fragments of the meteorite shattered windows, wrecked roofs, and caused other damage. As a result, about 500 people suffered injuries. The largest affected city is Chelyabinsk, about 930 miles east of Moscow. Fortunately, no fatalities have been reported so far.
NASA announced later in the day that Russia’s February 15, 2013 meteorite event was not related to the near-Earth passage of Asteroid 2012 DA14. That asteroid’s orbit brought it roughly 17,000 miles close to Earth. Asteroid 2012 DA14 is now on its way away from us.
Such a huge meteorite is rare. Meteors, however, happen every day.
Most material striking the Earth arrives as meteoroids: bits of rock and dust left over from comets. Some meteoroids also come from asteroids that crashed into each other in space. Meteoroids travel quickly towards Earth at speeds as high as 160,000 miles per hour.
As meteoroids enter the upper atmosphere, they rub against air molecules. That friction is so great that the meteoroid starts burning up. That produces a flash of light, called a meteor. When chunks occasionally land on Earth, we call them meteorites.
While some meteors flash across the sky every night, you’ll see the most during a meteor shower. The Perseids in August is especially popular in North America. Summer weather makes it much more pleasant to lie outside and gaze up at the show.
For now, though, people in central Russia face some rebuilding, repairs, and healing. Literally and figuratively, today’s meteorite did some astronomical damage.