Russian Meteor Explosion Was Bigger Than Hiroshima

Scientists Reveal That Russian Meteor Was Larger Than First Thought

By Kendra Pierre-Louis on November 10, 2013 6:24 PM EST

Alex Alishevskikh
Alex Alishevskikh

Scientists have discovered that the meteor which filled Russian skies this past February, named the Chelyabinsk Meteor after the city it flew over, was even more powerful than previously thought. The bus-sized meteorite garnered public attention after its fiery form streaked across the sky and cell phone pictures and dashboard cameras captured the event. Its shockwaves shattered windows, knocked people off of their feet, and even collapsed the roof of a local zinc factory.

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Asteroids barreling toward earth and destroying life as we know it have been fictional fixtures, since we first learned that it was likely an asteroid that made the dinosaurs extinct. After all, the knowledge that large pieces of rock hurtle toward the Earth with routine frequency isn't the most comforting fact. Nevermind that most meteors (as opposed to an asteroid, a rocky body without its own atmosphere that orbits around the sun, it becomes a meteor if it enters earth's atmosphere) burn up in our atmosphere. Of those which land on Earth to become meteorites, very few are of noteworthy size and even fewer turn out to be aliens from Krypton.

Researchers turned to YouTube, where citizen-uploaded video allowed analysis of the meter explosion from almost any vantage point, to estimate the power of the explosion. They were also able to calculate its exact trajectory and conduct analyses to better understand why, despite the prevalence of meteor tracking cameras, we didn't see this 12,000-ton meteor coming. The meteor was nearly twice as big as original estimates had suggested.

The YouTube studies have confirmed that this was the largest airburst, or explosion of a meteor in our atmosphere, in more than a century. The Chelyabinsk Meteor entered our atmosphere at a breakneck speed of 12 miles (19 kilometers) per second or roughly 40,000 miles per hour (64,000km/hour) - 50 times faster than the speed of sound. When it exploded several miles up the scale of that explosion was equivalent to 500 kilotons of TNT or roughly 30-times as potent as the nuclear bomb detonated over Hiroshima.

So why didn't we see it coming?

According to physicist Peter Brown, a professor at Western University in London, Ontario and first author of a paper on this subject posted in Nature, it's because the asteroid came straight from the sun. With the sunlight hitting only the side of the asteroid we cannot see, the object would appear invisible in space, so we wouldn't see any object at all.

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