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When Chicken Little is Right and the Sky Falls

February 17, 2013

Credit: Russian Emergency Ministry
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Most “space weather” is remote – a solar flare or a geomagnetic storm that causes auroras and radio static. This month, however, space weather got close up and personal.

A meteorite crashed into Russia the day after Valentine’s Day.

A few hours later, the 150-foot-wide (45 meters) asteroid 2012 DA14 zoomed by Earth in an extremely close flyby. (It was actually 17,200 miles away, but that’s getting cozy in space.)

Then another meteor fireball whizzed over the North American West Coast, with a starring appearance over San Francisco.

Chicken Little was right!

Some space weather is spectacular −the trail left by the meteor that exploded over Russia. PHOTO SOURCE: Wikipedia

Think of space as a giant pinball machine with rock, metal and ice balls bouncing off each other. If one of the balls remains in space, it is called an asteroid. Asteroids that enter Earth’s atmosphere are meteors and if they actually hit the Earth, they are meteorites.

People don’t realize how common these hits are. Most meteors are less than a yard in diameter and, like the San Francisco fireball, burn up in space. However, an estimated 500 actually hit the Earth every year. Only five or six of the 500 are large enough to track on our weather radar.

Their speed, however, generates a lot of energy. Over two decades, meteors have caused more than 90 blasts large enough for our government had to check to make sure they weren’t atomic bombs!

The speed of meteors gives them tremendous energy when they crash. Meteor Crater/Barringer Crater in Arizona PHOTO SOURCE: USGS

The Russian meteor was about 55 feet (17 m) wide and flew 40,000 mph. It exploded three times before hitting the Earth. The largest explosion, 15 to 20 miles above Chelyabinsk, Russia, was 20–30 times more powerful than the atomic bombs detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nearly 1200 people were injured, mostly from shattered windows. No one was killed and only two people were seriously hurt. With the local temperatures at 5˚F, everyone is frantically trying to seal their buildings again.

The size of the Russian Chelyabinsk meteor Source: Tobias84, Wikimedia

Before someone starts to parade off with Foxy Loxy to tell the king that the sky is falling, they should consider this – most meteors are very small and the Earth is huge. Despite the current hype, and many rumors, there has been only one confirmed case of a meteor actually hitting anyone. Back in 1954, a meteorite crashed through the roof of a home in Sylacauga, Alabama and hit a napping Ann Elizabeth Hodges. She woke up bruised and donated the rock to the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

 

 

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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, blogger, writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac, and editor of The Browning Newsletter, has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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Comments

Yesterday, May 31,2013 at

By ed gosiengfiao

Yesterday, May 31,2013 at 810pm there was a powerful explosion in a classy condo unit sending a big chunk of the ripped reinforce concrete wall in the 5th floor of the building about 50 meters away and crushed a moving delivery van killling instantly the driver and two helpers.The location is in Serendra, Global City, Philippines. Investigators could not find anything to link it to a bomb or appliance explosion. The blast was so strong that sounded more of a thunder that cause the ground to vibrate even at a far distance. . . Could this be a meteor sonic boom coupled with the actual release of energy upon impact of a tiny meteor at super high speed?

What does a meteor look

By Lori

What does a meteor look like?. How would you know if you picked up a small rock that it was a meteor? Heavy, light. You mentioned that it would stick to a magnet, because of the iron? Is there an easier way to find one with out carrying a magnet around and touching it to every little rock :-) ALSO I BOUGHT A RING THAT CAME WITH A CERTIFICATE , I CAN NOT REMEMBER THIS MOMENT THE NAME OF THE STONE (STARTS WITH AN M THOUGH) IT IS BEAUTIFUL! DARK OLIVE GREEN IN COLOR AND IF YOU LOOK VERY CLOSE YOU WILL SEE TINY BUBBLES. The story behind it, is this: Tens of Million Years ago, one had fallen somewhere in Russia (I think) and was recently discovered and a part of it that had heated up into some kind of substance like glass? Oh the name of the stone is something like Moldavite

Still not clear on the "boom"

By WxByHart

Still not clear on the "boom" that caused all the damage. Was it from the meteor "exploding" in the atmosphere, or simply the shock wave (sonic boom) created by the dense object moving at 33,000 mph?

It was a combination -- the

By Evelyn Browning...

It was a combination -- the sonic boom was the main factor, but there were additional shock waves from the energy released as the object broke up.

Atomic bombs? Oh my goodness

By Brenda Lynn

Atomic bombs? Oh my goodness gracious; So if one of these hit here in the United States then it would have the same effects as an atomic bomb? I did not know this, I used to think they were so small they could hardly cause any damage. I've been seeing alot of shooting stars lately, which are actually meteoroids burning in the Mesosphere. Our atmosphere is so thick that much of the space material burns in the Mesosphere, so our atmosphere protects us from any asteroids hitting the earth. This is enough to alarm us though, we have to remember these kind of things do happen. Chicken Little warned us after all... poor Chicken Little :( The sky is falling, spread the word.

Most meteors are small and

By Evelyn Browning...

Most meteors are small and harmless. However the big ones release a lot of energy with their sonic booms. During the Cold War era, our government was very nervous any time they detected a big boom.

Thanks, Evelyn, for

By Almanac Staff

Thanks, Evelyn, for dispelling the media hype and keeping us informed! Now to go read Chicken Little . . .

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