Meteor hits Russia, asteroid comes close to Earth: Cosmic coincidence

Two major events in the sky have everyone talking about asteroids and meteors Photo: AP images

WASHINGTON DC, February 15, 2013 – The sky in the Russian Urals region was lit up Friday morning by a streaking meteor, accompanied by a flash and loud blast that shattered windows, damaged buildings, and injured over 1,100 people, according to the latest reports.

The majority of the damage and injuries are in the Chelyabinsk region, 930 miles east of Moscow.  Most of the injuries treated were cuts and wounds from broken glass.  Of the estimated 1,100 people that have sought medical care after the incident, 48 have been hospitalized.  The blast took place around 9:20 local time. 

Entering Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 33,000 mph, the meteor blasted to pieces 18-32 miles above the ground.  Meteorite fragments fell above a large area, leaving large craters in frozen lakes, some as large as 20 feet wide.     

Residents in six cities reported damage to their homes and places of business, according to Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti.  RIA Novosti also reported that nearly 3,000 buildings sustained damage.  Overnight temperatures are expected to reach -4° F in the area that sustained the heaviest damage. 

Commentators agree that the meteor could have caused far greater harm, since Chelyabinsk is highly industrial and contains several chemical and nuclear weapon disposal facilities.   Fortunately, there have been no deaths reported and radiation levels are said to be normal.  There has been no widespread interruption of telephone and other utilities. 

The Russian meteor coincides with Asteroid 2012 DA 14, roughly the size of a football field that buzzed Earth at 2:25 EST.  However, scientists agree that the incidents are not related. 

On its closest approach to Earth, 2012 AD 14 was 17,200 miles (27,680 kilometers) away, within the moon’s orbit and nearer than even some high-orbiting communications satellites.  This is the closest an asteroid will come to our planet “in probably centuries,” according to NASA TV. 

While 2012 AD 14 will not be visible to naked eye, sky watchers with telescopes in Australia, Asia, and Eastern Europe will have the best views.  Click here for links to online viewing of 2012 AD 14. 

February 15, 203 has been a busy day for astronomers.  What is the difference between the two events?  A little vocabulary will be helpful.

From NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Asteroid Fast Facts

Asteroid

A relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun.           

Comet

A relatively small, at times active, object whose ices can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas.           

Meteoroid

A small particle from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun.           

Meteor

The light phenomena which results when a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes; a shooting star.

Meteorite

A meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands upon the Earth’s surface.

According to MSN’s Cosmic Blog, the Chelyabinsk incident was initially thought to be a meteoroid, but latest assessments classify it as a small asteroid.   As it came through the Earth’s atmosphere, the bright light seen by many in Russia was a meteor.  Whatever hit the ground is a meteorite.  There are reports of Chelyabinsk  “meteorites” already available on several auction sites, but their authenticity is doubtful.  On the other hand, 2012 AD 14 is classified as an asteroid.  

 


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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.

 

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