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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs