Meteorite Explosion Over Russia

February 15, 2013

Feb. 15, 2013     Doug Duncan

Doug Duncan, a professor of astronomy and director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium, comments on a meteorite that exploded Friday morning above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk and on the close fly-by of Asteroid 2012 DA14 later that day.

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Meteorite Explosion Over Russia

Feb. 15, 2013     Doug Duncan

Doug Duncan, a professor of astronomy and director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium, comments on a meteorite that exploded Friday morning above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk and on the close fly-by of Asteroid 2012 DA14 later that day.

 

This is not a rare event.

“On thing that may surprise people is that meteorites coming down like we saw over Russia on Friday morning is not rare. (:11) It happens many, many times a day. Most of the time meteorites come down in places where there aren’t people. They come down in the ocean, they come down in the middle of a mountain or countryside and nobody sees them.” (:24)

How big was the meteor?

“As far as we can tell this meteorite was maybe the size of a large desk - a little bit smaller than a compact car.  It weighed about 10 tones. (:10) But it was moving so fast – for Colorado listeners it would go from Boulder to Denver in about one second. So people say how could it have so much energy if it was just the size of me? And the answer is it was traveling so fast.” (:25)

How powerful was the explosion?

“It actually packs as much punch a little bit less than the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, ok, now, big difference. The meteorite rock breaks up 20 or 30 miles up in the atmosphere. (:14) So that whole rock did not make it to ground level. If it did that would be a much more serious thing. But our atmosphere protects us and so that meteorite broke up, as you can see in the videos, 20 or 30 miles about the ground.” (:31)

What caused all the damage if the meteorite broke up so high in the atmosphere?

“A meteorite traveling that fast breaks the sound barrier and produces an enormous sonic boom. (:11) And it’s that sonic boom that broke hundreds of thousands of windows and all the people who were injured they were actually injured from flying glass from all those windows breaking.” (:18)

What would happen if Asteroid 2012 DA14 that passed within 17,000 miles of Earth on Feb. 15 were to smash into the atmosphere?

“The larger one is about the size of an Olympic swimming pool and it would pack the energy of one of the largest nuclear weapons ever if it was to hit the Earth.  But it isn’t going to hit the Earth. It’s missing by thousands and thousands of miles. (:16) And so one good thing is the bigger the meteorite the more rare. So if you talk about something the size of an Olympic pool that would only hit the Earth once in thousand and thousands of years. (:33)

 What are the odds of getting hit by a meteorite?

“I did an approximate calculation of how dangerous meteorites are. Sometimes people ask – so what’s the chance I’ll be hit by a meteorite? And I can tell people, that in all of American history only one person has been struck by a falling meteorite. Her name was Mrs. Hodges. She was in her kitchen somewhere in Alabama in the 1950s and a potato-sized meteorite came through the roof, bounced off a radio and smacked her in the hip – gave her a big black and blue mark, didn’t kill her. So no person has been killed by a meteorite and very roughly your chances are a hundred times bigger to be struck by lightening.” (:43) 

-CU-

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