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meteorite

Google Earth, NASA/JPL-Caltech

The recent passage of a massive meteor in Russia is quite a unique and unusual hazard.  Hazards from outer space have received some attention from the UK government (who included space weather in the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies) and elsewhere, but some of the more obvious ones like meteors, comets or even asteroids clearly also need to be taken into account although their risk of impact may be low (the last incident of this kind happened in 1908 in Siberia).

Some videos that have appeared online of the meteor falling near the city of Chelyabinsk show just how incredible this event really was.  But it wasn’t simply awe-inspiring as it led to 1,200 reported injuries including 200 children.  The majority of injuries were caused by flying glass after the meteor’s passage sending a shockwave  that shattered thousands of windows (a nice explanation of a shockwave is given by geologist Sue Kieffer on her blog).  Local industry also took on heavy damage.  According to the most recent estimate of its size made by NASA, the meteor had a mass of 10,000 tonnes prior to entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Meanwhile, there has been some talk within the scientific community of developing meteoroid and asteroid detection systems that could provide warnings in advance.  Fragments of the meteorite have been recovered, but not only by scientists.  Many have been sold online, along with fake fragments.  Here is footage of the meteor traveling through the sky and crashing into the landscape.  It is extremely bright and quite spectacular. Read more

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