Exploding Russian Meteor: An Asteroid Fragment?

February 15th, 2013 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

UPDATE (12:18 CST 12/15/2013): A little more than 12 hours after the Russian meteor event occurred, it now appears to be the consensus of opinion that the meteor had nothing to do with the asteroid making its close approach to the Earth today. The two objects appear to have been on very different trajectories, and so it is difficult to see how they could have been sharing the same orbit around the sun.

The meteor which exploded over the Urals of Russia on 15 February 2013 entered the Earth’s atmosphere within hours of the closest approach ever recorded of an asteroid to the Earth, named 2012 DA14.

The above video of the event is quite spectacular, with a number of dash cams capturing the exploding meteor’s trail. The meteor was estimated by the Russian Academy of Sciences to be about 10 tons, which caused buildings to be damaged from the shock wave, and hundreds of injuries from flying glass.

This is the most spectacular bolide (large, bright meteor) event I can remember in my lifetime. The various videos suggest that it might have become brighter than the midday summer sun, although it is difficult to tell because the sun was very low in the sky (in the middle of the Russian winter) when the event happened.

While I am not an expert, I suspect that this was a fragment of asteroid 2012 DA14 passing closest to the Earth today (Feb. 15). This is simply too much of a coincidence. I also expect that this event will lead to renewed calls for government programs to deal with the potential threat of an asteroid collision with the Earth, a threat which space experts have been saying is very real. It’s only a matter of time before an asteroid large enough to cause substantial damage will reach the Earth. I’d be interested to hear the opinions of others on this.

By way of historical perspective, the 1908 Tunguska Event involved what is believed to be an exploding meteor or fragment of a comet, which leveled over 800 sq. miles of forest in rural Russia. The size of the meteor or cometary fragment has been estimated to be around 100 m in diameter, which is somewhat larger than the 2012 DA14 asteroid which makes its closest approach to Earth today, 15 February 2013.


28 Responses to “Exploding Russian Meteor: An Asteroid Fragment?”

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  1. Bret says:

    My opinion is that the cost of another IPCC like organization to track and deploy meteor countermeasures with all of the associated world government greed, graft, and incompetence will be so horrific that it’s better to just take the risk of taking a serious hit.

    In 100 hundreds years, I suspect the task will be much easier given future technology and experience so we should wait before committing any serious resource to such a project.

  2. Noobster says:

    Yes lets rather spend the money on new and interesting ways to kill humans. Much more sensible

  3. Joel Raupe says:

    A preliminary look at the wild variety of Russian camera angles (admittedly deceptive) appear to present an angle of attack from the east-northeast, relative to the position of the Sun just below the local horizon.

    2012 DA14 is rushing up from below the ecliptic, from the south. It’s therefore unlikely the bolide over the southern Urals early Friday is part of any swarm associated with the asteroid due to arrive well inside our comfort zone late Friday.

    The relative velocity of these two objects might be 22 kps, and 24 hours ago they were perhaps a million miles apart.

    Again, admittedly, the two objects might have once been part of the same object or swarm, resonant with Earth and revisiting the scene of some very ancient mutual encounter, though that seems to add an even higher degree of improbability than their coincidental arrival at Earth from separate directions within a single solar day.

  4. Kasuha says:

    I believe that what can be considered the “closest approach ever recorded” for an interplanetary object is the 1972 event:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Daylight_1972_Fireball

  5. Chester Moens says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    As Joel Raupe says, the trajectories of the approaching
    object and the one in Russia are almost from opposite directions. It is hence extremely unlikely that they are related. You should check the data before speculating.

    C. Moens

  6. David L. Hagen says:

    C. Meons
    The very close timing is an excellent reason to pose the question. That is part of the scientific method. Then you explore for data to confirm/reject the hypothesis.

    See Feynman on Scientific Method

    “. . .It is therefore NOT unscientific to take a guess . . .”
    I strongly encourage you to uphold the scientific method and encourage others to do so.

    European Space Agency report on their Twitter page that:
    “ESA experts confirm *no* link between #meteor incidents in #Russia & #Asteroid #2012DA14 Earth flyby of tonight #SSA #NEO”

    ‘No Link’ Between Meteor That Hurt Hundreds And Asteroid About To Fly By

  7. David L. Hagen says:

    See further analyses, figures etc at:
    Russian Meteor Not Related to Asteroid Flyby, NASA Confirms

  8. Christopher Game says:

    It is shocking that a blog such as this, with special interest in meteorology, should have failed to see the obvious. The meteor was caused by carbon-dioxide-induced anthropogenic global warming. A new organization is not needed. The induction of meteor activity from outer space is well within the writ of the IPCC, though it is clear that this new event calls for a large increase in funding for that valuable body. I suggest that more carbon taxing is the best way to achieve this.

  9. There is always the possibility of larger meteorites hitting the Earth. Are the governments doing everything they could to develop the technology to detect and destroy these meteorites before they hit the ground?

  10. Massimo PORZIO says:

    @Christopher Game

    Yes it MUST be linked to the CO2 increase of course.

    I fully agree ;)

  11. Kasuha says:

    There’s one thing the Chelyabinsk and Tunguzka meteors have in common – in both cases the trajectory was almost parallel to the Earth surface and the meteor had enough time to slow down, heat up, explode and cause damage. But Earth’s atmosphere is relatively thin and the Earth gravity does not play too big role for a body that moves at about 30 km/s relative to it, so meteors hitting the Earth at such a steep angle must be relatively small portion of all meteors actually hitting it.

    If a meteor comes in at 30 km/s at trajectory which is about perpendicular to the surface, it passes through the whole troposphere in less than 1 second. There likely is a sonic boom effect but way weaker than the Chelyabinsk one. It may not have time to heat up enough to produce bright flashes or strong enough contrail. The energy with which it comes is great, but not enough to trigger an earthquake detector and the resulting, relatively small crater is quickly assimilated by the nature. And if it hits ocean, which is way more likely than hitting land, then there’s even no crater left behind.

    What I’m trying to suggest is that there may have been many Earth strikes by meteors of about the same size as the Chelyabinsk one in past ~100 years, but they may have come through completely unnoticed. The Chelyabinsk one may have been particularly spectacular only because of its rare trajectory with a lot of “airtime” and because it passed over inhabited arease.

    I don’t think we should underestimate the danger of something falling upon us from the sky, but we should also not overestimate it just because there was one spectacular event.

  12. Jim Cripwell says:

    Roy, you write “it now appears to be the consensus of opinion that the meteor had nothing to do with the asteroid making its close approach to the Earth today”

    Shame on you. You have fallen for the non-scientific terminology of the warmists. There is no such thing as a scientific consensus. What you ought to have written is WTTE, “The data shows that the two objects were on different trajectories. So, it is unlikely that they have a common origin.”

  13. Joe Guyton says:

    If the estimates of speed we got on the two bodies is anywhere near correct (40,000mph – meteor; 17,000mph – asteroid), I find it high improbable if not impossible, unless the meteor was somehow slung by the moon’s gravity, that the two were connected.

  14. Gordon Robertson says:

    David L. Hagen …”“. . .It is therefore NOT unscientific to take a guess . . .” I strongly encourage you to uphold the scientific method and encourage others to do so”.

    Then there is the approach of Linus Pauling to double-blind studies. He asked why they are necessary when an outcome is so obvious. Some people would rather tie down the scientific process for years, or decades, doing study after study, when some scientists have the ability to step forward and see the truth almost immediately on certain issues.

    I am all for the scientific method but what good does it do when people get hung up on established paradigms. For example, the theory of evolution cannot be proved by the scientific method nor can the predictions of climate models. It was established as far back as 1966 that the mathematical odds against chemical evolution is immense, yet people cling to the theory out of faith.

    I should note that Roy did an excellent article on that:

    http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2005/08/faith-based-evolution.html

    How many people reading this believe that HIV is a deadly virus that causes AIDS? It is a hypothesis that has never been proved, yet most people now refer to HIV as the AIDS virus. The scientist who discovered HIV, Dr. Luc Montagnier, revealed recently that HIV will not harm anyone with a healthy immune system.

    Dr. Peter Duesberg, a microbiologist who was the youngest person of his time inducted into the National Academy of Science, claimed more than 20 years ago that HIV is harmless and that lifestyle is the issue. Duesberg was denounced as a quack, and his career is in tatters.

    Is that the scientific method at work? The HIV/AIDS hypothesis was forced on us without peer review and has never been proved, even though our local government is making rash claims that it can be eradicated. I find that odd since Montagnier claims he has never seen the virus, purified, it or isolated it. A world recognized authority on HIV, he as only claimed that he detected a concoction of viral particles that he THINKS has 1 in 1000 virulent particles.

    I am afraid the scientific method has fallen on hard times. Science today is often conducted by consensus and those not agreeing with the popular paradigm often find themselves ostracized.

  15. Gordon Robertson says:

    Speaking of meteorites, I was driving near Vancouver (Canada) one night, going east to west, when a large body traveling a few hundred feet above the surface passed me going due west. I estimate that altitude because I could see it looking up through my car’s side window with the window closed.

    I could not make out the actual size because it all happened so fast and it was gone over the horizon in a few seconds. I was going about 100 kph (60 mph) on a freeway and it passed me like I was standing still.

    It alarmed me because all I saw was a bright light and a vapour trail with smoke following it. The noise was what I remember most. I have seen locomotives going through stations at high speed in the UK (close to 100 mph) and they make an odd, pulsating noise, which I imagine has something to do with air pressure causing oscillations.

    It’s like a dull, throbbing sound. That was the noise coming from the object, and when I come to think of it, it could have been a piece of debris from a satellite breaking up. I saw nothing about it on the local news, then again, I don’t watch the news a lot.

    It was much less than a mile (estimated)to my left and I am very glad it did not decide to come down at that moment. One cannot begin to imagine how fast those things move, or what devastation would be wreaked with the momentum of a significantly sized object traveling at such speeds colliding with the surface.

  16. Yes, coming from the north gave it up as not related to the 2012 DA14 asteroid.
    I was interviewed by a local TV station and used the chance to calm the viewers and the interviewer.
    What a space rock!

  17. Truthseeker says:

    Money for the non-problem of CAGW or money for the real threat of an asteroid strike … hmmm let me think …

  18. Mac says:

    I believe NASA, they have been the accepted experts on global warming, why not this issue as well. They probably have an opinion on Rock and Roll, I hope they publish it soon.

  19. tom vaughn says:

    According to JPL, this meteorite was 55 feet in diameter, had a weight (mass?) of 10,000 tons, and released energy equivalent to 500 ktons. That is three orders of magnitude larger than the Russians claimed at 10 tons, unless there was a translation problem. Here is the link:

    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch/newsfeatures.cfm?release=2013-061

  20. Svend Ferdinandsen says:

    “The two objects appear to have been on very different trajectories, and so it is difficult to see how they could have been sharing the same orbit around the sun.”

    At first i also thaught it could not be connected, but some thinking and sketches made me reconsider.
    If you take into account that the Earth moves by ~30km/s, you can not say that different tracks relative to a place on Earth also is a different orbit relative to the Solar system.
    In fact 2012-DA14 came from south in a circuit not very different from the Earth’s orbit except from the angle to the eclipse, and so could the Russian meteor also. It would fit to the angle of attack as seen on the videos.

    The above is very simple considerations, and some with more tools might be able to confirm or deny it.
    Anyway it could be interresting to have some guesses about the comets orbit, either around the Sun (asteroid) or otherwise.

  21. Off topic — just checking to make sure that everyone is able to post comments as usual. I built this site originally and can make adjustments if necessary. Reply to this if you’ve had problems or email me at jamon@clearsightstudio.com.

  22. MikeN says:

    Jamon, using Firefox, I am unable to reply to your post. I can post normal comments, but the button for reply does not work after I type my comment.

  23. JensK-O says:

    Kasuha said: “I don’t think we should underestimate the danger of something falling upon us from the sky, but we should also not overestimate it just because there was one spectacular event.”

    However, most people greatly underestimate the worldwide disruption that a meteoric strike can cause. The damage grows very fast with meteor size ( diameter to the power of 3 ). Fortunately the likelihood of a strike diminishes by a similar factor.

    Imagine a meteor to be discovered a couple of weeks before it is due to annihilate an area the size of Delaware. Can we trust FEMA to be prepared to evacuate the population in good time? What would the effect be on US and world economy?

  24. tobyw says:

    My physics is very rusty, but as a process for deflecting an asteroid or similar body, rather than using a rocket engine to deflect the body, would there be any efficiencies in spinning the object, axis or rotation pointing to earth’s predicted position, then blowing off chunks in feasible sized chunks, which would deflect the resulting segments away from the axis and away from the collision course. It would also be less dangerous to have smaller pieces flying around than one big chunk. The demolition could be done with nuclear weapons which are more energy dense than rocket fuel.

  25. tobyw says:

    Correction: That should be “axis of rotation”, not “axis or rotation”

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