A meteorite only a few meters long fell to Earth above Chelyabinsk, Russia early this morning. The shockwave caused by the object shattered windows and caused hundreds of injuries.
A video of the event has quickly become one of the most-watched videos on YouTube today. It shows the object appear in the sky over the Russian city and break up in a flash of bright light.
While astronomers today were watching asteroid 2012 da14 as it made its close miss of the Earth, the object depicted in the video was too small for scientists to have predicted today’s event.
“Current information, which is not yet complete nor confirmed, points to a small asteroid,” said Detlef Koschny, head of Near-Earth Object activity at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program. “There is no way it could have been predicted with the technical means available today. What can be said with near certainty is that this object has no connection with asteroid 2012 DA14.”
The SSA program, along with NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program (“Spaceguard”) are both searching the sky for objects that could pose a danger to Earth in the future. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx program will launch a probe in 2016 that will visit an asteroid that has a 1 in 2,400 chance of hitting the planet in the late 22nd century.
“Today’s event is a strong reminder of why we need continuous efforts to survey and identify near-Earth objects,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s director of Human Spaceflight and Operations. “Our SSA programme is developing a system of automated optical telescopes that can detect asteroids and other objects in solar orbits.”
(Image courtesy Eumetsat/ESA)