Friday, February 15, 2013

The Inevitable

At about 9:20am local time this morning something space types had been worried about happened.

A good-sized meteor plunged into the atmosphere at a shallow angle and exploded in a fireball above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The largest piece created a twenty meter crater near the city's reservoir (another, smaller piece, made a circular hole in the ice on the lake itself).

The shockwave from the fireball shattered windows. Over a thousand people were injured, mostly from flying glass. A zinc factory was seriously damaged. Many residents of Chelyabinsk were left with shattered windows in the cold of a Russian winter.

This is the first known incident, in modern times, of a meteorite strike in a populated area. As natural disasters go, it's nothing to write home about. No deaths have been reported (although the combination of broken glass and Russian cold is worrying). The meteorite is believed to have been a chondritic (stony) asteroid - not either a comet fragment or, as was first believed, a nickel-iron asteroid core.

We've all been saying this was going to happen, somewhere, sooner or later. This was not that large a meteorite, but it packed a punch far higher than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima (although without the radiation - background radiation levels remained normal). Bizarrely, it hit on the same day that a much larger asteroid came uncomfortably close to our planet.

Take homes?

1. The sensors set up to detect atmospheric explosions as part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty do a good job of measuring meteors blowing up too, if they're large enough to do damage.

2. The flash from the fireball reached the city about three minutes before the damaging shockwave. If the sky lights up, run for an interior room. Chances are you'll have time to get there and then you'll be safe from anything short of a direct hit.

3. The primary damage done was from the shockwave. This can apparently affect a fairly large area.

4. We need to get serious about space defense. We really do. As my husband joked earlier: At least we're not in the alternate reality in which the other one hit...

Updates, because I do owe them, but couldn't not talk about a meteor strike:

Transpecial - developmental edits are DONE and the manuscript has been passed to the line editors.

Gods & Cattle - five of six pages inked and all six pages penciled. Finally.