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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid