15 February 2013
I woke up this morning to find all of my social media feeds bursting with news of a huge meteor over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Reports are coming in from all over the place that the sonic boom(s) from the meteor have shattered windows, blown out doors, and injured hundreds of people (mostly from falling glass). Here are some videos that show the fireball and some of the damage:
There are also reports of a factory being damaged, but it’s not clear whether this is unrelated, or if the sonic boom caused it, or if a fragment of the actual meteorite hit the factory. I suspect it is probably not an actual fragment, but we’ll see.
There are also unconfirmed reports that some fragments impacted in a nearby lake.
Also, be warned: the following image has been circulating with claims that it is the crater formed by this meteor. This is NOT a meteor crater, it is a natural gas fire in Derweze. A meteor of this size would probably not cause a flaming hole in the ground: counterintuitively, the rock itself can be quite cold, it’s just the outer layers that heat up as the meteorite streaks through the atmosphere. Once the meteorite is on the ground, the thin outer layer cools down and you end up with an icy-cold rock, not a red-hot fireball.
There are inevitable parallels between this event and the famous Tunguska Event, when a huge swath of Russian forest was leveled by an exploding meteor in 1908. But compared to Tunguska, this fireball and its accompanying sonic boom were tiny. There is also rampant speculation that this fireball is related to the asteroid 2012 DA14 that is currently making a close approach to Earth. Everything I have read so far indicates that this is a coincidence. There are a lot of rocks out in space, we just happen to be noticing two of them today! And if DA14, weighing in at around 190,000 metric tons, were to impact the earth, it would do a lot more damage than a few broken windows and doors. It would be enough to obliterate a city. Speaking of which, I’d like to share this public service announcement shared by Neil de Grasse Tyson on Facebook: