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A cosmic double feature comes to Earth today!

February 15, 2013

MOSCOW: At about 9:20 AM local time, a roughly 50-foot wide, 11-ton meteor crashed through the Earth’s atmosphere to explode roughly 900 miles east of Moscow over the central Ural Mountains, to the great surprise of witnesses. Many  wondered if it was an airplane that hit the building, shattering windows and injuring 1200 people; some even thought it was a nuclear test by the Americans.

This time, it was the cosmos calling. The explosion was caused by the substantial meteorite crashing down at 33,000 mph and breaking into pieces 20 to 30 miles above the Earth’s atmosphere, understandably causing some degree of panic, as local residents would never expect giant space rocks to come raining down from the sky.

Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured, and the pieces of meteorites found as a result are prized pieces specimens, pieces of asteroids that are some of the oldest material we have from the formation of the solar system, roughly 4.6 billion years ago.

Watch the news report here:  

It is estimated that smaller meteorite impacts occur at a rate of roughly 5 to 10 per year; those of the size of the one that hit today occur about once every 100 years, but usually in unpopulated areas, including the oceans that cover much of the Earth’s surface. The largest meteor impact event in recorded history was the explosion of an asteroid about 300 feet across over Siberia in 1908, which has come to be known as the Tunguska event.  A far larger asteroid — about 10 km in diameter — is believe to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. We need not worry much about another one of this magnitude coming again for at least 35 million years or so…

And that’s not all! While this amazing cosmic rainfall was not predicted, scientists eagerly anticipate the close-pass of asteroid 2012 DA14, which will come within about 17,100 miles of Earth — closer than the orbit of the Moon — at about 2:25 ET. At more than 160 feet in diameter, DA14 will skim closer to the Earth than any other known asteroid, but will not hit Earth. Interestingly, this asteroid is not believed to be related to the exploding Siberian meteor from this morning.

While DA14 won’t be visible to the naked eye, you can follow the asteroid live on NASA TV! Enjoy today’s truly amazing cosmic double-feature! For some, perhaps, these events put our small planet in perspective, the only place we know of so far that can harbor and sustain life.

Watch live here: NASA TV

Orbital path of Asteroid DA14. Credit: NASA

Orbital path of Asteroid DA14. Credit: NASA

Asteroid map of the inner solar system. Credit: Scott Manley, Armagh Observatory.

Asteroid map of the inner solar system. Credit: Scott Manley, Armagh Observatory.

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