For months the entire world had been awaiting—some people more nervously than others—the near space flyby of an asteroid. It was supposedly the closest approach of another predicted celestial body since mankind has been able to predict these things.
It happened without incident.
But that’s not all that happened. On the same day, the very same day!, what’s now believed to be another small asteroid streaked down over Russia, triggering sonic booms which indirectly injured about 1,000 people, some of them seriously.
Of course what ’s pol itely referred to as the “social media”— or not politely referred to as “my Uncle Joe in Muleshoe who is just as good a scientist as that dude with a doctorate from Cal Tech”—had a field day.
The first thing which came to everybody’s mind was “is this thing related to the other one?” Which was a pretty good question. It wasn’t long before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) came out with a statement saying it wasn’t. NASA pointed out the predicted asteroid was traveling almost due south to due north, relative to the earth, and the Russian event had quite a different trajectory.
Now, about three meteors an hour are visible to the naked eye every night and, occasionally they can get quite bright.
Of course by the end of the weekend, with everyone’s attention turned skyward, some fireballs had made the news in California, Florida and Cuba. The on-line responses were about of the quality you’d expect. One said: “These meteors can think and they don’t like the commie countries.”
That came from someone who obviously missed out on the 1980s in their entirety. And I’d be offended if I lived in Florida.
A Russian opposition party leader named Vladimir Zhirinovsky immediately termed the incident an American weapons test.
If you’ve seen the youtube videos of what happened in the city of Chelyabinsk it’s pretty obvious why 1,000 people were hurt.
Chelyabinsk, which is about the size of San Antonio, is apparently composed entirely of six-story gloomy gray buildings made totally of windows.
So when the accompanying sonic boom shattered glass there was a lot to shatter.
Given the amount of potential guillotines in Chelyabinsk to fall on folks, I’m amazed there weren’t 100,000 casualties.
Ironies abound. The most famous celestial object impact of modern times was what’s come to be known as the Tunguska Meteorite in 1908. That was also in Russia!
Apparently Friday’s Russian visitor was about 10 tons, considerably smaller than the asteroid, named “2012 DA 14,” which is about 150 feet in diameter and shaped like a potato.
Friday afternoon, our time, it passed within 17,200 miles of the earth, making its closest approach over the nation of Indonesia in the southwest Pacific.
People who know such things say if DA 14 had hit the earth it would have created a crater about three-fourths of a mile in diameter.
That obviously wouldn’t wipe out the earth, or even a nation (unless it was Monaco) but would be very unpleasant if you were underneath it.
Of course something of that size wouldn’t necessarily have to land on you to hurt, or even kill you. Just ask the people of Chelyabinsk. What was left of their visitor from the sky actually landed about 50 miles away from the city in a much more sparsely populated area.
In fact, the chances are pretty good any space visitor would actually land in some ocean, since water covers about 70 percent of our planet.
But that, of course, would trigger tsunamis and cause a host of other problems.
Here’s the real scary part. Even with all our technology, we actually only know when about one percent of objects the size of DA 14 which might approach the earth.
That means there are an awful lot of them out there. Of course space is a very big place. That’s comforting.
This isn’t. There are countless impact craters on earth, some of them much larger than DA 14 would have made had it hit.
Ever heard of Chesapeake Bay?