A shot across the bow

A meteor has blasted over Murmansk, a city in the very northwest part of Russia this month and reminded us of the 2012 Chelyabinsk meteor which causes so much damage. Scientists have warned that a massive meteor that exploded over Russia in February 2012 was a “wake-up call” for all human beings.

The space rock was 20 metres in diameter and it released energy equivalent to 600,000 tons of TNT at the time of the explosion. Professor Qing-Zhu Yin, from the University of California at Davis, US, said the meteor strike was a “wake-up call”. He added: “If humanity does not want to go the way of the dinosaurs, we need to study an event like this in detail.” The 2012 meteor exploded 18.5 miles above the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia and it released so bright light that it briefly outshined the sun and inflicted severe burns on people who were observing the explosion below.

The meteor was the largest observed object to hit the Earth since 1908 when an air-exploding comet or asteroid destroyed 2,000 square kilometres of Siberian forest. The Chelyabinsk meteor entered the atmosphere of earth at just over 19 kilometres per second. The researchers said over 60% of the rock evaporated in the explosion. The researchers have published their findings in the journal Science.


This latest meteor and the 2012 one brings into sharp focus that fact that we have been very lucky so far in our meagre existence not to have a major catastrophic asteroid strike in our modern human history. Earth is indeed in the middle of a cosmic shooting gallery and we have known this for a while now and the unfortunate thing is that we can only see a very small percentage of incoming asteroids thanks to a combination of the sun being behind them upon their approach and a huge lack of resources.

The biggest known threat at this present moment in time is from asteroid 99942 Apophis, named after an Egyptian demon (albeit the Greek name). Apophis catapulted to fame in 2004 when a study predicted a 2.7% chance of an Earth impact in April 2029. Since then, the threat level has been downgraded. However, the space rock will still make a very close pass with our planet, coming within 36,000 kilometres of earth and to give you some perspective that’s 10 times closer than the moon!

Apophis is 325 meter across and if it does impact the earth in 2029 or 2036 then it is estimated it would make atmospheric entry with 750 megatons of kinetic energy. To give you an idea of just how big that is the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated was only 56 megatons. If Apophis makes landfall then it could easily wipe out a city as big as Stockholm but the real risk is it making an impact in the ocean as the tsunami caused would be the biggest in recorded history and would devastate many coastal regions.

There are many ways we can avert the dangers from space, from asteroid tug probes to colonising the solar system to ensure all our eggs aren’t in one basket but whatever method we choose there is a new sense of urgency as it is not a matter of if it will happen but when.

Stay curious – C.Costigan


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