On February 15, 2013, the town of Chelyabinsk, Russia was hit by an asteroid with the energy of about 500 kilotons. The impact did not only terrified witnesses and bystanders, but also caused quite a bit of damage. The meteor hitting earth, which was estimated to be about 55 feet wide and traveled at a speed of 40,000 miles per hour, knocked out windows throughout the area and injured approximately 1,000 people.
This was the biggest impact to Earth from an object since the Tunguska event in 1908, in which citizens felt an asteroid impact in a nearby forest. Some people were knocked off their feet and felt heat from the explosion created by the asteroid.
The impact caused damage to a 35-mile radius, knocking down trees and breaking windows in its path. This asteroid was around 160-325 feet wide, potentially more than six times the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor.
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After witnessing such catastrophic moments like that in Chelyabinsk, we are left wondering about our safety, options for protecting our planet, and more. What caused this asteroid to hit Earth, especially at such a powerful force, with such little warning?
If scientists are constantly studying the sky and finding these asteroids, would finding them further in advance make a difference? How likely is it that we might experience another impact like Chelyabinsk or Tunguska?
Why Don’t We See a the potential meteor hitting earth
Scientists from NASA are constantly watching for changes in space and studying the behaviors of asteroids. Even though NASA is actively looking for more potential meteor hitting earth threats to our planet, they can only look so far.
This is due to the telescopes used. These telescopes don’t exactly reach as far as we’d like, so we can only plan for any kind of possible asteroid impact so far in advance.
“The more lead time you have, if you had years to plan, you would only have to deflect an object by a small amount for it to miss Earth years down the road,” said Victoria Friedensen of NASA’s Planetary Defense.
With advances in technology, we are seeing telescopes in development that can see further and in more detail, giving us a better look at a wider range of the sky. One of these next-gen telescopes is the NEOCam, which can go further into space and help us avoid events like a meteor hitting Earth. As great as they are, these telescopes are still going to take a few years to get to market.
What Are the Odds of Experiencing Another Large Impact In Our Lifetime?
An asteroid impact is a devastating occurrence, no doubt. Even though we are not yet able to plan a decade in advance to prepare us for an asteroid or meteor hitting Earth, we are still able to see them with some notice.
These space rocks also tend to have travel patterns that are surprising, like the one in Chelyabinsk. “Asteroid impacts are very unlikely events, especially the large ones, but they are preventable if we find these objects with sufficient warning,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Near-Earth Object office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
It is worth worrying about, especially after seeing the video of the impact in Chelyabinsk, but we also need to trust the people that are working hard to make sure our home planet stays safe.
As technology advances, and more people become aware of the possibilities out there, I think we find ourselves in good hands. Hopefully, through more discovery and research, we will find ways to avoid these occurrences altogether.