As most of you are undoubtedly aware, several hours ago, nature played a cruel prank on humanity. For the last few months, the asteroid 2012 DA14 has been getting a ton of media coverage as it prepares to pass within 21,160 miles of Earth, which is underneath the orbit of our geosynchronous satellites – a record distance for an asteroid of this size – later today. Whereas this asteroid has no possibility of hitting our lovely home, that didn’t stop nature from throwing another asteroid at us from out of the blue, catching us completely by surprise, in what must be a cosmic joke.
Only, nobody is laughing. The meteor blew up near Chelyabinsk, Russia around 9:22am local time. The event itself has been compared to the famous Tunguska event, where an asteroid of similar size leveled hundreds of square miles of Siberian forest. This morning’s wasn’t kind enough to explode in the middle of nowhere. As with any explosion, a sonic shockwave is created, in this case, a ‘big’ one. Currently, over 500 people are reportedly injured (including about 70 children), most of these injuries were caused by falling glass that was shattered by the earth-shattering kaboom. Only three people are reportedly seriously injured.
Nature’s trick is compounded further with the irony that Chelyabinsk is a major player in Russia’s civilian and nuclear industry. The bright flash and impressive explosion left many citizens under the belief that a war had broken out. Even though the explosion has been mostly confirmed as a meteor, that hasn’t stopped the Russians from putting their army on high alert, and Russian politicians were quick to start placing the blame on some foreign plot against the mother land. One party leader accused the Americans of “testing a new weapon against Russia”. Fortunately, none of the nuclear facilities have been damaged in any way (at least, according to Russian sources).
The asteroid itself was probably composed of iron and nickel, “meters across” (and, that is about as specific as it gets right now) and weighing several tons. As of this writing, none of the remaining pieces that have fallen to Earth have been recovered.
On a more amusing note, Google had a doodle today celebrating the passing of 2012 DA14, which featured an asteroid falling towards the little ‘g’ in the logo, the little g then would jump out of the way in the nick of time. Google has sense removed the doodle. On a different note, most of the videos you’ll see of the meteor actually entering the atmosphere and exploding were captured by dashboard cameras – many Russians have these devices in their cars to help protect themselves against corrupt traffic police. On an even more amusing note, several sources are reporting that Russia shot down an alien spaceship (so, if the mother ship shows up and is… less than pleased… we can blame the Russians).
With the much-anticipated arrival of 2012 DA14, the completely unrelated Chelyabinsk event gives us a very important – though coincidental – reminder. There are a lot of undiscovered asteroids out there that can easily sneak up on us. Fortunately, we were lucky this time. The damage caused by this strike is very minor. It emphasizes the importance of investing in the sciences and in the global survey effort to find these asteroids in advance in order to keep us prepared for what the future may hold.
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Over 500 injured as meteor blast across Russian sky