Is Russia Marked For Meteors? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Is Russia Marked For Meteors?

Russians might be forgiven for thinking they have a big, fat celestial bull's-eye painted on their heads.

After all, Friday's spectacular meteor impact near Chelyabinsk prompted many people to recall a bit of history - that a similar (though much bigger) such incident occurred at Tunguska in Siberia just over a century ago. Another big one, though less known, occurred at a place called Sikhote-Alin, also in Russia, in 1947.

The so-called 'Tunguska event' of 1908 produced an explosion comparable to a hydrogen bomb, flattening hundreds of square miles of forest. Russia's Pravda was quick to draw comparisons with Friday's event.

In an interview with the newspaper, Maxim Shingarkin, deputy chairman of the Duma Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Ecology, was quoted as saying the "the phenomenon that we could observe in Chelyabinsk this morning was similar, although it was of a much smaller scale [than Tunguska]."

So, is Russia just one giant meteor magnet?

In a way yes, says Clark Chapman, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

"The best answer is just that Russia is by far the largest land area in the world and therefore it's just a greater likelihood that it will get struck several times than any other places," he says.

Chapman agrees that the Chelyabinsk meteor on Friday is much smaller than the one that smashed into Tunguska, which was probably about 100 feet across.

"This one, it's hard to tell," he says. "We really don't know how big it is, [but] it's meters in size, rather than tens of meters in size."

Paul Chodas, a scientist at the Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena, Calif., thinks Friday's strike could be of historic proportions.

"It was indeed a large fireball, probably the largest fireball since the Tunguska event that hit Siberia in 1908," Chodas says.

He says it was probably about 50 feet across before it hit the atmosphere, making it roughly half the size of the Tunguska object, but just a third as big as DA14, an asteroid that just coincidentally happens to making a close flyby (and near miss) of Earth right now.

(In case you slept through grade school science, here's a quick primer on the difference between meteors, meteorites and asteroids)

Scientists have been tracking DA14, but didn't know about the Chelyabinsk object, Chapman says, adding that there's no connection between the two other than an "amazing coincidence" that they are happening on the same day.

"It would have been possible to see [the Chelyabinsk meteor] by some optical tracking plans that are in the works, but really aren't operational yet," he says. "We normally can't find them unless they are a much bigger object than struck Russia."

Funding for those projects can be difficult to come by, Chapman says, but he expects that "consciousness will be raised" by Friday's impact and the passing of DA14.

"These are real events and real events do a lot more than theory in raising awareness," he says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Passages' Author Reflects On Her Own Life Journey

Gail Sheehy is famous for her in-depth profiles of influential people, as well as her 1976 book on common adult life crises. Now she turns her eye inward, in her new memoir Daring: My Passages.
NPR

Syrup Induces Pumpkin-Spiced Fever Dreams

Hugh Merwin, an editor at Grub Street, bought a 63-ounce jug of pumpkin spice syrup and put it in just about everything he ate for four days. As he tells NPR's Scott Simon, it did not go well.
NPR

Texas Gubernatorial Candidates Go To The Border To Court Voters

Republicans have won every statewide office in Texas for 20 years, but the growing Hispanic population tends to vote Democrat, and the GOP's survival may depend on recruiting Hispanic supporters.
NPR

In San Diego, A Bootcamp For Data Junkies

Natasha Balac runs a two-day boot camp out of the San Diego Supercomputer Center for people from all types of industries to learn the tools and algorithms to help them analyze data and spot patterns in their work.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.