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The Chelyabinsk meteor

Updated: Jul 21

#37 Science in History

15th February 2013

Today in 2013, a bright fireball streaked across the morning sky over Russia's Ural Mountains, followed by a loud boom and a shock wave that shattered windows, damaged buildings and injured over a thousand people.

The event, known as the Chelyabinsk meteor, quickly became one of the most well-documented meteor events in history. It provided valuable scientific data and insights into the origin, composition, and behaviour of meteoroids and their potential hazards to Earth.

The meteor, estimated to be about 17 meters wide and weighing around 10,000 tons, that had entered the Earth's atmosphere and exploded about 30 km above the city of Chelyabinsk with a force equivalent to about 30 Hiroshima atomic bombs. It was classified as a super bolide, a rare and powerful type of meteor that releases vast amounts of energy. The meteor was traveling at a speed of about 20 kilometers per second when it entered our atmosphere. Friction, between air particles and the meteor, heated it up to several thousand degrees, causing it to glow and break apart into numerous fragments. The explosion created a bright flash that illuminated the sky and cast shadows on the ground. The shock wave generated by the explosion was felt up to 120 kilometres away and caused damage to buildings, roads, and infrastructure. The broken glass from shattered windows caused the majority of the injuries, which were mostly minor but also included some serious cases.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was a wake-up call for the scientific community, policymakers, and the public about the potential threats posed by near-Earth objects, such as asteroids and comets, that could collide with our planet and cause significant damage and casualties. It highlighted the need for better monitoring, detection, and mitigation strategies to minimize the risk of such events.

In response, several international organizations, including NASA, the European Space Agency, and the United Nations, have launched or expanded programs to study and address the threat of near-Earth objects. These programs involve a combination of ground-based and space-based telescopes, radar systems, computer simulations, and international collaborations to improve our understanding of the population, orbits, and physical properties of near-Earth objects and develop strategies to deflect or destroy them if necessary.

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