Threats from asteroids and meteors have NASA scrambling
By Fallout Girl
On February 15th, a meteor lit up the morning sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia, about 950 miles east of Moscow. While astrophysicists were expecting a near-Earth asteroid called 2012 DA14 to pass extremely close to earth, they were blindsided by the Russian fireball. How could NASA not see a space rock with a 55-foot-wide diameter heading our way? The answer is more frightening than you think.
YouTube was flooded with video footage of the meteor, which clearly showed a bright, streaming ball of light soaring through a cloudless blue sky (see bottom). The light show was followed by the sound of an extremely loud bang, then a series of smaller bangs. So what were those sounds?
On the Science Channel show Fire in the Sky, a Daily Planet Special, Physicist Mark Boslough explained the presence of those bangs. “When a large object comes into the atmosphere at a supersonic velocity, it creates a bow shock…a strong shock wave which is a sonic boom and, as it breaks up and smaller fragments calve off, break off it, they trail behind it, and they make their own smaller sonic booms,” said Boslough, who works for Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
So basically, the large boom was from the larger meteor before it broke up and the smaller booms are from the smaller pieces as it fragmented, due to hitting the Earth’s atmosphere and breaking the sound barrier.
Many Russian citizens were injured, but not from getting hit by meteorites. Instead, the sonic boom caused glass windows in the area to splinter. Boslough explained, “A big sonic boom is a pressure wave, and a pressure wave can shatter windows, even a sonic boom from a super sonic jet can do that and this is much bigger than a super sonic jet.”
When asked why no scientists saw the meteor coming, Boslough said it was mostly due to the bright sun and the object’s size. “It was so small. Five to ten meters seems like a pretty big object, but it doesn’t reflect light,” said Boslough adding that usually, meteors can only be detected in the night sky.
This meteor was the biggest one to make it into the Earth’s atmosphere since the Tunguska meteor of 1908 that also exploded in Siberia. Though it mostly burned up before hitting the ground, the explosion it created is thought to be 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It decimated roughly 80 million trees over an area of 830 square miles and, had this meteor impacted a city, the results would have been devastating.
Scientists have recently discovered a new near-Earth asteroid called Apophis, which has a 1,066-foot diameter. Zooming through space at the amazing speed of 21 miles per second, it will pass very close to earth on Friday, April 13, 2029. A creepy date, to be sure.
Initially, scientists thought it had a 2.7% chance of impacting Earth in 2029, but now they believe it will miss us entirely. However, there is still a small chance that Apophis will pass though a small, half-mile-wide gravitational keyhole that would set up another possible impact on April 13, 2036.
Because of Apophis however, many scientists are currently scrambling to develop serious deflection strategies, such as impacting the asteroid with a laser, nuclear bomb or possibly by creating a gravitational tractor. The goal would be to either destroy the asteroid before it hit Earth, or at least knock it off its collision course by altering its orbit.
We know very little about asteroids and comets, so in 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA not NASA) launched the Rosetta Mission, where a spacecraft will attempt to land on the surface of a comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 11, 2014. The purpose of the mission is to probe the comet, in hopes of taking samples for further study.
While meteors, comets and asteroids seem like the harbingers of doom, they also have a creative side to them. Many scientists believe that it was a meteor that landed on a young Earth, carrying water and amino acids – the building blocks of life. It’s no longer science fiction to consider that life on Earth may have alien origins.
Article by Fallout Girl Fallout Girl is a writer who enjoys target practice with her Glock 9mm, prepping for the “big one” and watching Cold War era movies in the solace of her fallout shelter somewhere underneath Los Angeles