Local experts explain the out of this world events in Russia

By: Matt Hoffman Email
By: Matt Hoffman Email

The talk across the country is about two objects that were out of this world, the meteorite in Russia and the near miss by much larger asteroid. In space, both objects were asteroids but the smaller rock became a meteor entering our atmosphere and breaking apart in the Russian sky. A local astronomy professor at UW Eau Claire says the events in Russia are merely a coincidence with the near miss made by asteroid 2012 DA14.

"It’s funny that it should happen on the same day but the two trajectories for these objects are completely different,” Professor Paul Thomas.

The meteor streaked over Russia at around 36,000 mph. In our atmosphere that's too much resistance for the rock to handle. "It's like a big explosion. All of a sudden all of the energy that was associated with its motion, very large amount of energy typical to say an explosion of a small nuclear weapon is dumped into the atmosphere and that's why you see the incredible flare up of light and the shockwave that accompanies it. Sounds like a big band and carries enough force to blow out windows," says Thomas.

The fireball created a mass panic and the flying glass and damage injured over a thousand people. The asteroid that harmlessly passed by earth this afternoon was much larger.

"In fact something like that in 1908 exploded over Siberia and felled an entire pine forest the size of a major city, around 800 square miles." Thomas says because of its much larger size it had been tracked by telescopes on earth millions of miles away. That’s impossible with small asteroids like the one that struck Russia.

"We don't really have enough telescopes with the sensitivity to look for these small objects. We don't worry about those smaller ones as much as the bigger ones which we are still picking up," says Thomas.

At Hobbs' observatory, Dr. Bert Moritz, participates in a NASA program where he tracks those larger asteroids and comets that may make an approach towards earth. "It's good to be a part of a big project that is important in the long term for the general well-being of the planet."

Professor Thomas says asteroids big and small have been slamming into the earth for millions of years. The difference now is there are more people to notice. The last meteorite to hit in North America was about 10 years ago in Canada. It actually contained water & organic materials, which he says are the building blocks of life.

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