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Ever heard about the Chelyabinsk meteor?
A few weeks ago I was stunned to learn that every year, the Earth is hit by about 6,100 meteors large enough to reach the ground, or about 17 every day. I kept muttering these words;
“Really! Really? That many?”
In order to understand meteorite impacts on Earth, it is important to know where the chunks of rock come from. Meteoroids are rocky remnants of a comet or asteroid that travel in outer space, but when these objects enter Earth’s atmosphere, they are considered meteors.
To make matters even more interesting, these meteors rain into the earth at completely random times throughout the year. We are told not to fret, because between 90 and 95 percent of these meteors completely burn up in the atmosphere, resulting in a bright streak that can be seen across the night sky.
You can keep your worries aside this time.
Because it happens randomly, we don’t get a notice or a weather report until it’s very certain to hit and there is no particular date of the year to be outdoors with a helmet!
If it’s any comfort, the majority of these impacts go unnoticed, as they land in vast swathes of uninhabited forest or in the open waters of the ocean. Lack of tails makes the meteors hard to spot until they are practically upon us.
Research says it is safe to assume that only 43% of the earth land surface is covered by humans. Go figure out the chances of your city getting hit by a meteor shower soon. Please be kind to factor in the fact that the land area represents only 30% of the earth’s surface.
How big are these meteors you’d like to ask?
Some of these space “debris” are the size of a minivan flashing across the sky before exploding into showers of falling rocks. Every 2000years a meteor the size of the football field hits the earth like a clockwork.
Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth’s civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences.
Space rocks smaller than about 25 meters (about 82 feet) will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere and cause little or no damage.
There you have it! When was the last one?
Several times a year, a few meteors land in places that catch more attention and grabs the headlines. One of such happened in a city called Chelyabinsk in Russia on February 15, 2013 – 8 years ago!
What is now termed the Chelyabinsk meteor was a “small” asteroid — about the size of a six-story building — that broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk. The blast was stronger than a nuclear explosion, triggering detections from monitoring stations as far away as Antarctica.
I wonder if this could have altered the earths rotation about its axis even for a fraction of a degree?
The shock wave it generated shattered glass and injured about 1,500 people.
Due to its high velocity and shallow angle of atmospheric entry, the object exploded in an air burst over Chelyabinsk Oblast, at a height 29.7km. The explosion generated a bright flash, producing a hot cloud of dust and gas.
Some scientists even think the meteor was so bright it may have briefly outshone the sun (30 times brighter) and was visible for up to 100km. Some eyewitnesses also felt intense heat from the fireball.
The explosion created panic among local residents, and about 1,500 people were injured seriously enough to seek medical treatment. The bright light and explosion produced injuries, leading to over 180 cases of eye pain, and 70 people subsequently reported temporary flash blindness. Another twenty people reported ultraviolet burns similar to sunburn, possibly intensified by the presence of snow on the ground.
All of the injuries were due to indirect effects rather than the meteor itself, mainly from broken glass from windows that were blown in when the shock wave arrived, minutes after the flash. Some 7,200 buildings in six cities across the region were damaged by the explosion’s shock wave, and authorities scrambled to help repair the structures in sub-freezing temperature.
After the air blast, car alarms went off and mobile phone networks were overloaded with calls. Office buildings in Chelyabinsk were evacuated and the heroics of a local fourth-grade teacher – Yulia Karbysheva, did not go unnoticed after saving 44 children from imploding window glass cuts.
Yulia thought it prudent to take precautionary measures by ordering her students to stay away from the room’s windows and to perform a duck and cover maneuver and then to leave a building. Yulia, who remained standing, was seriously lacerated when the blast arrived and window glass severed a tendon in one of her arms and left thigh; none of her students, whom she ordered to hide under their desks, suffered cuts.
The governor of the state estimated the damage to buildings at more than 1billion rubles (approximately US$33 million).
It was also reported that the seismic wave produced when the primary airburst’s blast struck the ground registered on seismographs at magnitude 2.7. The dust from the Chelyabinsk impact stayed in the atmosphere for many months.
The meteor had a radius of approximately 20m and hit the Ritchers scale at 2.7! –a minor earthquake.
I will leave you to your imaginations!
In October 2013, curious scientists raised a coffee-table-size piece of the meteor from the crash. Some of the pieces inside the meteorite were said to have formed in the first 4 million years of solar system history.
The Chelyabinsk meteor was the last time a meteor of significance hit the earth and it certainly won’t be the last. While scientist appears to focus on larger meteorites that are capable of wiping the entire human race off the surface of the earth, the danger of small asteroids raining into the earth at will cannot be overlooked and must be foremost in the minds of responsible public officers.
Think for a moment. What if this happened in Nigeria? Lagos maybe!
Don’t say “God forbid” please! What if it did?
What will happen to all the fancy concrete monoliths we have lined on broad street that has been poorly maintained over many decades? Would they fall like packs of stumbling dominoes or would they crumble like a week-old bread and break into fine dust?
Do we even have any emergency plan whatsoever to ferry the injured to a health facility?..Oh I forgot to ask, do we have functional health facilities at all?
Can we ever be prepared for such a calamitous impact even if it was from a meteor half the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor?
Your answer is probably obvious! I guess we will have to stick with the “God forbid” mantra. Our choices have been made for us.
One thing is clear though, the entire planet is vulnerable to meteors and with the changing weather and other natural disasters happening with increased frequency and intensity, are we to wait for the famed doomsday hopelessly?
Questions! Questions!! More Questions!!!
Abi do we need a space guard system to protect the planet from similar objects in the future. What can you imagine it to be like?
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