News / Science & Technology

Siberian Blast Points to More Destructive Meteors Ahead

A meteorite contrail is seen over Chelyabinsk, February 15, 2013.
A meteorite contrail is seen over Chelyabinsk, February 15, 2013.
Adam Phillips
The idea that the orbiting chunks of interplanetary rocks called asteroids could hit the Earth and wipe out cities, or even life itself, is a familiar theme in space-based adventure films. But according to three just-released scientific studies in the journals Nature and Science, the likelihood that dangerous asteroids will enter Earth’s atmosphere may be greater than previously believed.

On February 15 of this year, the world was inundated with dramatic video images of a 19-meter-wide meteor streaking across the sky above Chelyabinsk, Russia at nearly 67,000 kilometers per hour. Well over 1,000 people were injured by the event, mostly from the blinding flash and from broken window glass. Still, according to physicist Paul Wiegert of the University of Western Ontario and an author of a study of the Chelyabinsk meteor just published in the journal “Nature”…  

“… Chelyabinsk didn’t really create as much damage as we might have expected, and that’s a good thing. The flip side is that we are now starting to discover that events like the Chelyabinsk event are occurring more frequently than we had originally anticipated. But we’ll have to wait a little while longer and collect a little more information before we can know for sure," said Wiegert.

Wiegert adds that collecting that information about orbiting asteroids the size of the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, then determining their path relative to Earth, is a difficult job using conventional earth-based telescopes.  

“Larger asteroids are relatively easily seen with telescopes because they are fairly big. Much, much smaller objects are much more common and frequently hit the earth as meteorites - shooting stars, falling stars and things like that. So we see the bigger objects and we see the smaller objects relatively well. But the Chelyabinsk event kind of falls into the gap between the two," he said.

At a recent panel of the Association of Space Explorers in New York, physicist and former astronaut Ed Lu warned there is little time to lose. He said there are about 10,000 known asteroids orbiting our region of the solar system - that’s just one-thousandth of the number scientists believe could actually be there. Lu's B612 Foundation is planning to help launch a space-based infrared telescope in 2018 that can detect the heat emitted by asteroids, map their position and orbit, then provide a warning in time to mount an international effort to deflect the more dangerous ones.  

“You cannot deflect an asteroid that you haven’t found. And the technology exists, the know-how exists and we realized that the cost of finding and tracking these things, the telescope to do that, is about what it cost to build a large freeway overpass," said Lu.

Paul Wiegert says he’s fascinated by the Chelyabinsk event and would welcome the launch of an infrared space telescope to locate similar asteroids.

“But I don’t think the Chelyabinsk event has really increased our perception of the danger. You won’t have any difficulty finding someone who thinks we should be spending more money looking for more asteroids. But I don’t think anybody in the asteroid community is sleeping any less soundly because of that event," he said.

Nevertheless, officials at NASA’s Near Earth Object program, which scans the heavens for dangerous objects, say the space agency is reassessing what size rocks to look for and how often they are likely to hit.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid