Meteor Lights Up Sky in Russia

A 55-foot meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, NASA reported. The explosion released over 500 kilotons of energy and injured about 1,200 people in the region.

A meteor is an object from space that comes in contact with the Earth’s atmosphere and burns as a result of the friction, explained John Sloan, astronomy professor at Ramapo College. The meteor in Chelyabinsk was essentially the same as the shooting stars people see on a clear night, only much larger.

Scientists are still uncertain about the composition and origin of the Russian meteor.

“Nobody’s quite sure yet,” said Sloan.

It is definitely a part of an asteroid or a comet, but astronomers and geologists need to figure out “what type of a rock it really was,” Sloan added.

The meteor was “was brighter than the sun,” according to NASA’s website. “Its trail was visible for about 30 seconds, so it was a grazing impact through the atmosphere.”

The explosion released energy more than 30 times greater than the bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. However, since the only damage is caused by sound waves, the impact was much smaller.

“It’s not a nuclear explosion,” Sloan clarified.

If an event like this was to occur in a more populated area, such as New York City, most of the injuries would be caused by broken glass rather than the actual explosion.

An event of this kind is likely to occur about once every hundred years. The last known notable incident occurred in 1908 in the Tunguska region, again in Russia.

Even though it occurred only 16 hours after, the passing of the asteroid 2012 DA14 was completely unrelated to the Chelyabinsk event, reported NASA.

Ramapo College student David Resnick was in St. Petersburg, Russia during the incident. Resnick is a sophomore majoring in International Studies who is currently completing a study abroad term in Russia.

Resnick’s reaction was one of “amazement that something like that could happen so close.” It occurred about 1,200 miles from where he currently resides. “I was not shocked or scared about what happened because I know little about the subject,” Resnick said.

Many concerned friends and relatives sent messages to Resnick inquiring about his safety.

“The news here in Russia covered it,” said Resnick, “but there was not really much panic on the streets.”

There is no way to protect the Earth from future impacts with objects from space. If there was another small meteor, similar to the one in Chelyabinsk, “we wouldn’t know it,” said Sloan. 

Scientists generally have a “good handle” on the location of most big near-Earth asteroids, explained Sloan. However, when it comes to the technology of preventing the impact, the issue becomes problematic.

“You don’t blow it up,” said Sloan. 

The most promising solution so far is to have a craft land on the asteroid and attach an engine to change the trajectory and avoid the impact.