It wasn’t the day the Earth stood still, but those who witnessed a fiery asteroid briefly pass the sun as it soared toward the Russian city of Chelyabinsk will almost certainly not forget it.
About the size of a house and traveling at an astonishing 11 miles per second, it was soon to be known as Chelyabinsk Meteor Arrives suddenly in a way that’s reminiscent of a sci-fi disaster movie. It’s a disturbing sight.
Dashcam footage in Central on the morning of 15 February 2013 Russian City near the Ural Mountains shows how the asteroid exploded 30 times more powerful than the US atomic bomb before it entered Earth’s atmosphere Destroyed Hiroshima in World War II.
Windows were shattered, buildings were damaged and hundreds were injured – but Chelyabinsk was lucky.
“If it was directly over the city, the damage would be worse,” he warned nasaPlanetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. “It’s definitely a wake-up call.”
“We haven’t seen anything like it since”
Johnson’s department works with partners such as the European Space Agency to issue warnings of any impact on Earth by comets and asteroids and guide responses.
A standard test case is a “meteor” asteroid Soared above the English Channel this weekTracked and publicized in advance, so that people can see it with their own eyes.
Chelyabinsk is not a standard test case.
“We’ve never seen anything like this since we started working in this field,” said Mr Johnson, whose office at NASA was only established in 2016.
“It was daytime, clearly visible in the daytime sky, and it doesn’t happen very often.
“It moved into Earth’s daylight, and we didn’t have the opportunity to detect it early with the ground-based observatories that were used to spot these objects at the time.”
How likely is another Chelyabinsk?
On the day of Chelyabinsk’s arrival, Mr Johnson was attending a meeting of UN members of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna, Austria.
It didn’t take long for recommendations on how to protect Earth from such events to be endorsed, including an international asteroid warning network.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast is an expert on these so-called near-Earth objects and a loyal member of the “planetary defense community”.
“We are very open about our findings and our current understanding of the potential impact risk,” he said. “All detected asteroids are published on the public website.
“Technology has come a long way in terms of the ability to detect asteroids as small as Chelyabinsk, but it’s still possible to sneak by. And the next big asteroid we have is likely to will not be announced.”
How can we protect ourselves?
Chelyabinsk is believed to be an asteroid – this, and its arrival in daylight, are reasons why it’s so hard to see it coming.
“We’re still vulnerable to those things that come from the sun,” Mr Johnson admitted.
“Most of these objects come from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and we can find them in the night sky when they enter the inner solar system. But when they go out as they orbit the sun and come back, that’s when we’re most likely to see them.” When vulnerable.”
The key to being able to anticipate the unexpected is space-based observation, he said.
NASA is working on the $1.2bn (£985m) Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor spacecraft, due to launch in 2028, which will be the first specifically designed to hunt for asteroids and Space telescope with comet.
Even then, Chelyabinsk was far smaller than the asteroids NEO will focus on. Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for the NEO Surveyor, said it would prioritize “finding an asteroid that could give a lot of people a really bad day.”
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (Dart) spacecraft is also on the repertoire. When testing last yearwhich was deliberately crashed into an asteroid and successfully altered its orbit.
What if another person passes?
The arrival of Chelyabinsk demonstrated the importance of fast and effective communication – its arrival was quickly documented around the world, Russian scientists shared their findings, debris was collected, studied and found a new home, the event Provides information for international policy.
Professor Fitzsimmons said this kind of transparency and coordination would again be crucial, perhaps even more so in an age when misinformation can spread quickly.
If such an asteroid breached the atmosphere in a populated region today, it would do so in a more fragile geopolitical climate than in 2013, Russia’s war in Ukraine and U.S.-China dispute over flying object threat escalates.
“When these types of events are identified as natural causes, even in today’s environment, the flow of information is very good,” Mr Johnson said. “But there were certainly concerns, and it quickly became clear that this was a natural event and not man-made.
“To the human eye, these objects, entering and exploding due to the heat pressure in the atmosphere, look very much like an attack, and sophisticated instruments can quickly tell the difference.”
“There is still a long way to go to find them”
Currently, about 31,000 asteroids are being tracked — up from about 9,500 in 2013.
It’s a sign of how seriously the prospect of a dangerous impact has been taken since Chelyabinsk, the largest and best-documented asteroid strike on Earth since 1908. siberiaan explosion equivalent to 15 million tons of dynamite leveled some 80 million trees.
Again very lucky not to be near a construction zone.
Russia’s sheer size has made it a relative hotbed of asteroid activity throughout history. Since 70% of Earth is covered by water, most asteroids, discovered or not, will likely end up in the ocean. NASA estimates that an impact like Chelyabinsk’s could be a once-in-a-century event.
Professor Fitzsimmons said none of the 31,000 known asteroids were expected to hit Earth within the next 100 years, but “there’s a long way to go to find them”.
“But I’ll assure you – I’m still going to work and pay my pension plan.”