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.

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