Siberia takes another big hit from space, shock waves hit nearby towns


Second Update 7 PM Cdentral: This is now looks completely unrelated to the larger NEO. But interestingly, there are conspiracy theories now popping up, mostly in Russia, that this was an attack or test attack of some sort from an unfriendly nation and the Russian government is covering that up for political reasons. Or variations on that. I’ve only seen it so far on some weird sites, that I had to badly translate, so I’m gonna have to dig around to get some details and better links. Anybody heard anything about this?

Update: Video now emerging, see below, more to come. One researcher told me it’s possible an NEO making a close pass today may have calved off some small chunks. Unconfirmed, reputable sources say unlikely at this time.

It wasn’t in the same class as the 1908 Tungaska Event, but Siberia got clobbered good with at least a ten ton space rock. Astronomers are scouring the region already for clues to its exact size, composition, and origin:

NYT — Bright objects, apparently debris from a meteorite, streaked through the sky in western Siberia early on Friday, accompanied by a boom that damaged buildings across a vast area of territory. Hundreds of people were reported to have been injured, most from breaking glass.Scientists believe the bolide exploded and evaporated at a height of around 20 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface, but that small fragments may have reached the ground, the statement said.

The governor of the Chelyabinsk district reported that a search team had found an impact crater on the outskirts of a city about 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk. An official from the Interior Ministry told the Russian news agency Interfax that three large pieces of meteorite debris had been retrieved in the area and that 10,000 police officers are searching for more.

A small asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, is expected to pass close to Earth later on Friday, NASA reported on its Web site. Aleksandr Y. Dudorov, a physicist at Chelyabinsk State University, said it was possible that the meteorite may have been flying alongside the asteroid.

It’s chilling to think, had this same thing happened at the height of the cold war, say during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the Reagan Era high alert deal, the counter strike missiles could already be landing. Mushroom clouds blossoming all over, on at least thee continents, and civilization as we know it would be ending, right now.


  1. lordshipmayhem says

    This is why I support the space program. We need to scatter ourselves through space so that no matter where the next one strikes, on Earth or on a planet we’ve colonized, the impact will not be a human-extinction event.

  2. says

    Apparently, scientists have already made the determination that this was unrelated to the other meteor that has been in the news. But nowhere have I seen how this determination was made. Is this just panic control, or did this fireball come from an obviously different trajectory?

    My understanding is that space rocks often travel in packs, as remnants of a larger rock that broke apart. It doesn’t seem a stretch that 2012 da14 would have smaller, undetected companions running ahead of the main piece that are on a collision course with Earth. Or have I just been reading too much SF?

  3. The Lorax says

    Phil Plait thinks the trajectory of this one was east-west, whereas DA is north-south, so they’re likely from different sources. Of course, who knows…

    Either way, the videos are chilling. Attn. Hollywood: The bar has been raised.

  4. The Lorax says

    (sorry for the double post)

    Just watched some Niel DeGrasse Tyson (by the gods is that man one juicy, thick, meat roast of an astrophysicist) and he pointed out that if 2012 DA14 did break up, we wouldn’t see one fireball, but several. So again, it’s highly unlikely that this one came from that one.

  5. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    @2 … This one has a far different trajectory than 2012DA14

    If it were part of a “pack”, with this being one of the lead rocks, or even if this was the only chunk that broke from 2012DA14 they would be following the same orbit.

  6. says

    Dudorov was wrong.

    2012 DA14 was several hundred thousand kilometers away at the time the Chelyabinsk meteor came down, and as others have noted the two are traveling on entirely different orbits. DA14 is moving from above the south pole to a bit off to the side of the equator to above the north pole – almost at right angles to the trajectory this meteor had before it hit the atmosphere. That’s why I won’t be observing DA14 from here in New Mexico until tonight – the rest of the planet is still in the way.

    Fireballs like the one over Chelyabinsk happen every several months. Most of them are over the ocean, and most of the ones over land are over sparsely populated areas (2008 TC3, which flashed over the desert in northern Sudan in 2008, is a good example). This one is important in that it happened over a city. If I am remembering correctly, the last time something like this happened in Russia was in 1947, at Sikhote-Alin near Vladivostok. I have a piece of that meteorite sitting near my computer.

  7. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    That last paragraph about the Cold War implications certainly makes you think – & hadn’t occurred to me till now.

    However, they did have a hotline even then and if I recall right they could track incoming missiles, spot launches and do other checks that hopefully would’ve prevented a nuclear war of misunderstanding even at the tensest times. Think I vaguely recall hearing / reading somewhere that there were several false alarms caused by large bolides over that period that could’ve – but didn’t trigger – that scenario. Also that the possibility of meteor being confused for nukes led to some diplomatic communications in an effort to avoid just that peril and improved satellites (for detecting gamma ray flashes etc ..) to give more instant certainty in identifying and separating natural from human-caused blasts

    Always seems to be Russia that gets hit doesn’t it? After Tunguska, Sikhote-Alin and now this I’m starting to think they must have a bolide magnet somewhere in Siberia!

  8. says

    >>It’s chilling to think, had this same thing happened at the height of the cold war, the missiles could already be flying,<<

    Not likely, at least not after the mid-1960s.

    StevoR is recalling correctly about the monitoring satellites. Even the early Vela satellites in the late-1960s were set to separately identify gamma-ray flashes and optical/IR pulses. The rate of meteor bolides very rapidly became clear: optical/IR pulses in the upper atmosphere without gamma ray emission. They also discovered astronomical gamma ray bursts (gamma rays from the sky rather than the Earth, without a bright optical/IR counterpart).

    If and only if a gamma-ray flash and an optical/IR pulse were seen at the same place at the same time would it be considered a potential detonation.

  9. says

    I got that cold war bit from something Sagan once wrote about Tungaska. I agree, I would imagine this small of a hit wouldn’t trigger an exchange either. But I just watched a special a few days ago about events occurring during the Reagan era when, for a time, some hawks in the USSR had convinced themselves the US might be setting up for a sneak first strike and they went to high alert at least once. According to that program, there was a point where, if one relatively low ranking Russian officer monitoring data hadn’t had a damn calm head on his shoulders when some false positives came pouring in one night in, the USSR might have seriously considered launching.

  10. says

    Sad state of American TV, when a commenter says ” But I just watched a special a few days ago” and the first thing that jumps to mind was, is that the History or Discovery channel..

  11. johnhodges says

    I support the space program too, but this is a poor argument for colonization. Better, cheaper, faster, to improve our ability to detect and track such stray rocks, and send missions to alter the orbits of any on a collision course.

    I was born in 1952, and grew up reading science-fiction. I would be all in favor of colonization; but realistically, it ain’t gonna happen. (1) How to you get OFF the planet? (2) Where do you GO? The best (and so far only) way we’ve got to get from the ground to space are chemical rockets, and they are far, far too expensive to allow anything more than the occasional scientific mission. The best real estate out there is Mars, and Mars is only slightly better than the Moon: no breathable atmosphere, no protection from cosmic radiation or solar flares, and so cold that Antarctica would seem tropical by comparison. To establish a self-sustaining colony anywhere off Earth would be the same problem as establishing one in a hard-rock mine deep underground, or deep undersea, hermetically sealed. “Biosphere Two” was only the barest beginning of a first step, for the research and development we would have to do, to think about colonizing space.

  12. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ steve84 : Well, Siberia *is* very wide after all!

    @9. michaelbusch : Cheers for the confirmation and extra info there. Much appreciated.

    @12. johnhodges :

    I would be all in favor of colonization; but realistically, it ain’t gonna happen. (1) How to you get OFF the planet? (2) Where do you GO?

    Problem (1) has a number of possible solutions starting with the chemical rockets we have now but extending to space elevators, nuclear rockets -preferably fusion not fission – and many more. How imaginative are you, how much SF do read and do you realise it took us less than 100 years to go from the Wright brothers to the Apollo / Saturn V spacecraft? What can we do in another hundred if we put the focus and money and will to it?

    Problem (2) if solve problem (1) well enough the answer becomes – almost anywhere we want!

    With robots if not necessarily people for a while and not necessarily soon although I hope the sooner the better.

    We learn, we explore, find out what’s over the next metaphorical hill and what we can do as is human nature.

    We visit Mars, maybe terraform it. Visit asteroids and comets and learn to use and build on or inside them. Visit Europa, Enceladus, Titan, Triton and Pluto. Journey further to Eris and Sedna , Haumea and other ice dwarf worlds. Then take the next giant leap in some form and visit the newfound worlds round other stars.

  13. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    PS. @ Stephen “DarkSyde” Andrew : Off topic, sorry, but how do I subscribe to this blog to get the latest ones sent to my email address like I do with Dana Hunter’s and Mano Singham’s blogs among others? I can do that with Zingularity too, right? Can’t see a button / thingummy for doing that here, could just be me.

  14. says

    I was born in 1952, and grew up reading science-fiction. I would be all in favor of colonization; but realistically, it ain’t gonna happen.

    I think it depends on how long a view you take. As an alternative to detecting Earth-bound killer asteroids, absolutely, it’s not going to happen. We’ve already detected an estimated 93% of 1km-sized asteroids, and 30% of all 100m-sized asteroids, and we’ve really only just gotten started.

    With new telescopes and better detection techniques coming on line all the time, my guess is that we’ll be close to 100% detection for anything that could cause much more than a localized disaster within the next 50 years, and we also will have the means to divert those we find that are on a collision course.

    I would be surprised if we’ve even had a manned mission to Mars by then.

    Longer term, I’m optimistic that we will eventually spread out and establish a permanent presence in other parts of the Solar System, but it’s probably going to be a century or two before things really get going, and we’re talking a thousand or more before there are colonies of any significant size (i.e. more than a few thousand) beyond the Moon.

    Of course, should some passing ETI choose to drop in and lend us the required tech. for doing this stuff tomorrow, I wouldn’t be complaining…

  15. says

    @johnhodges :

    Mars isn’t the most accessible real estate out there. Neither is the Moon. There is a section of the near-Earth asteroid population that is easier to get to than either of them, in terms of the fuel required. You can consider them as potential targets for human missions and for useful resources to make further missions easier. In addition to interest from NASA and the other space agencies, this is Planetary Resources’ line.

    The trick is that most of the most accessible objects are small and unknown right now, although there are a couple of possibilities. So we would like to find more of them. That happens to overlap neatly with finding future small Earth impactors, like that which airbursted over Chelyabinsk. Both of those are goals of several current and future projects, most notably the ATLAS survey currently under construction at U. Hawai’i.

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