As Asteroid 2012 DA14 approached Earth, a significant meteor strike took place in central Russia. Most experts do not believe that the two events were related, and NASA has confirmed that the asteroid has not broken up. However, smaller debris is sometimes present near asteroids, and is not generally detectable, so it is possible that such debris comprised the meteor.
The meteor caused a dramatic and noisy pressure wave as it moved through the atmosphere. This resulted in broken glass all over the region and led to hundreds of people reporting to emergency rooms with injuries, most from glass shards. The meteor struck near Chelyabinsk, approximately a thousand miles east of Moscow. Cellphone systems were overwhelmed and there were brief power disruptions in the area. Early reports that Russian air defenses had intercepted and broken up the meteor were later denied. No country has the capability of detecting objects as small as meteors, or of breaking them up on entry into the atmosphere.
The meteor released several kilotons of energy above the region and was approximately 6.5 feet across. City officials say the shock wave blew in an estimated one million square feet of glass. They say 3,000 buildings in the city were damaged. At a zinc factory, part of the roof collapsed. For dramatic video of the aftermath, click here.
The asteroid made its closest approach to Earth at 11:24 AM Pacific time today, passing within 17,200 miles of our planet. It is 150 feet across and weighs 130,000 tons, and is the largest such object to pass within close proximity of Earth since such events have been recorded. NASA has announced that the object passed without incident. If it had, it would have caused an explosion the equivalent of a large hydrogen bomb, and extensive destruction would result. The blow would not be a fatal one to life on Earth. The last asteroid that caused a major extinction struck in Mexico approximately 65 million years ago, and is associated with the climax of the extinction event that destroyed the dinosaurs. This object was far larger than 2012 DA14, and is believed to have been more than a mile across.
The asteroid was discovered last October. NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program (NEAT) is responsible for detecting and tracking asteroids that may come close enough to Earth to be of concern. There is a long list of potentially hazardous asteroids, but at this time, NASA is not tracking any that appear to pose a certain threat.
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