Russian Meteor aftermath, Cleanup begins, NASA increases size estimate

Experts describe it as a “Small” object.

The day after what NASA describes as a “small” meteor exploded in the atmosphere above Russia people are still in shock over this event. The estimated size of the object, prior to entering Earth’s atmosphere, has been revised upward from 49 feet (15 meters) to 55 feet (17 meters), and its estimated mass has increased from 7,000 to 10,000 tons. Also, the estimate for energy released during the event has increased by 30 kilotons to nearly 500 kilotons of energy released. “We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average,” said Paul Chodas of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “When you have a fireball of this size we would expect a large number of meteorites to reach the surface and in this case there were probably some large ones.” Thus far there have been reports of a large hole in the ice on a lake in the area but teams sent to the site have not found anything and not meteorites have yet been found.

Russia meteor map

A meteor seen flying over Russia on Feb. 15 at 3:20: 26 UTC impacted Chelyabinsk. Preliminary information is that this object was unrelated to asteroid 2012 DA14, which made a safe pass by Earth today. Image credit: Google Earth, NASA/JPL-Caltech

Further analysis continues to show that due to the trajectory of this meteor it was not related to asteroid DA14 which passed Earth safely yesterday. This is the largest to strike Earth since 1908 when a meteor hit Tunguska, Siberia. In that event the meteor also exploded in the atmosphere but the explosion was much larger. Fortunately the area of impact was not populated but trees were leveled in a very large area. Had this been in a populated area it would have been devastating.

These kinds of object can strike Earth without warning at any time. It is not a question of if were going to get hit with another one, only a question of when. The effort to detect these objects so that we will be aware of them is anemic at best, The United States did fund an effort to search for near earth objects but this effort would not have found an object like this and is by no means a complete catalog of objects that could cause damage.

Vice chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) , responded to the Russian fireball by saying the event should serve as a wakeup call. “We have been looking forward to the close pass of asteroid 2012 DA14, which will pass between the Earth’s surface and our communications satellites this afternoon” he added “We have calculated that there is no chance this asteroid will impact the Earth, and that we will get an opportunity for a close-up view as it flies past” … “Unfortunately, we didn’t see the one that exploded over Russia until it happened.”

The United States has been spending millions to find and track asteroids and comets.The bad news is the object over Russia was so small “that we aren’t even looking for objects of this size.”

“What concerns me even more, however, is the fact that we have no plan that can protect the Earth from any comet or asteroid,” Rohrabacher said. “So, even if we find one that will hit us, we might not be able to deflect it.”

The cleanup from this event is largely confined to broken windows on thousands of buildings in the area. While this was a fairly significant event, we got off lucky. Had the angle been steeper, or the object a little larger it could have been much worse. Perhaps this will serve as a wake up call and the people of the little blue marble will unite and put a comprehensive effort together to warn us before a more catastrophic event happens….or perhaps it will not.

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.