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Noon Edition

Fire Over Chelyabinsk

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D:        Yaël, why are space scientists so worried that an asteroid might hit Earth.  It probably won’t happen for a million years.

Y:        Don, it happened in February, 2013.

D:        Huh?

Y:        In 2013 a small asteroid about sixty feet across entered Earth’s atmosphere traveling at twelve miles per second over a populated area of central Russia.  Frictional heat made it glow twice as bright as the sun, and people in its path suffered sunburn-like burns to their skin, and damaged their retinas if they looked directly at it.

D:        Wow!  What happened?

Y:        The asteroid blew up nineteen miles over Russia’s seventh most populous city, Chelyabinsk. The explosion had a force thirty times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Chelyabinsk is the home of more than a million people.

D:        Good grief!  A city!  Was anybody hurt?

Y:        Over one thousand six hundred people were injured. People directly beneath the explosion were knocked off their feet. The shockwave blew out windows over two hundred square miles, and some buildings were damaged.

D:        But isn’t this just a freak event unlikely to happen again?

Y:        Nope.  In 1908 another asteroid exploded over the remote Tunguska region of Siberia with the energy of eight hundred Hiroshima bombs, knocking down forests over eight hundred square miles.  At least three people died. Since then, there have been a number of other smaller explosions over remote areas. Chelyabinsk is the first time a city has been effected.  The danger is very real.  The world’s space agencies are mounting efforts to find ways to protect ourselves.
Photo of broken windows in Russian theatre.

The shockwave from an asteroid that hit Earth's atmosphere above Russia damaged buildings over 200 square miles, including this theatre. (Nikita Plekhenov, Wikimedia Commons)

In 2013 a small asteroid about 60 feet across entered Earth's atmosphere traveling at 12 miles per second over a populated area of central Russia.

Frictional heat made it glow twice as bright as the sun, and people in its path suffered sunburn-like burns to their skin, and damaged their retinas if they looked directly at it.

The asteroid blew up 19 miles over Russia's seventh most populous city, Chelyabinsk. The explosion had a force 30 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Chelyabinsk is the home of more than a million people.

Over 1,600 people were injured by the asteroid. People directly beneath the explosion were knocked off their feet. The shockwave blew out windows over 200 square miles, and some buildings were damaged.

As stragne as it sounds, this was not just a freak event unlikely to happen again.

In 1908 another asteroid exploded over the remote Tunguska region of Siberia with the energy of 800 Hrioshima bombs, knocking down forests over 800 square miles. At least three people died. 

Since then, there have been a number of other smaller explosions over remote areas. The asteroid in Chelyabinsk is the first time a city has been affected. The danger is very real. The world's space agencies are mounting efforts to find ways to protect ourselves.

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