Image Credit: Composite Created With Public Domain Images
Russian home security and dashcam owners were given a light show last week as a meteor approximately 13 feet wide flew overhead and smashed into our planet’s atmosphere. According to reports, the meteor went unnoticed by NASA’s detection equipment, but its impact was significant enough that it registered on sensors designed to monitor nuclear explosions.
NASA’s Center For Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) estimates that the meteor was traveling over 32,000 miles per hour and that it struck the atmosphere and exploded around 17 miles above Russia on June 21. Witnesses reported hearing a loud boom just after impact, and a few people had their cameras pointed in the right direction at the perfect time to catch the fireball streak across the sky.
According to NASA, the impact of the meteor was around 2.8 kilotons, which was enough for the sensors to feel but not exactly on the level of what an existing nuclear weapon would be. CNET points out that in 2013 an asteroid blast over Chelyabinsk, Russia had a calculated total energy impact of 440 kilotons, which was enough to shatter thousands of windows 14 miles below the point of impact. Still, the impact of last week’s meteor was much greater than any so far this year, with most others around the 0.1 kiloton mark. NASA’s failure to detect the incoming meteorite raises questions of whether or not we are – or can be – adequately prepared for an asteroid strike, especially given the near miss we had in April. Despite this most-recent failure, NASA is, at last report, electing to design an asteroid-smashing spacecraft named HAMMER.
CNEOS keeps a color-coded world map of fireballs reported by the United States government over the past 30 years. The cooler the color and the smaller the dot, the lower the impact energy. Besides the big red spot for Russia’s 2013 report, the dots seem pretty evenly distributed across the continents and oceans. It’s not exactly comforting for those worried about death by meteorite, but for people hoping to look up and see a fireball streak by it’s pretty cool…as long as it’s not of the window-shattering variety.