NASA: Eight amazing facts about Russia’s exploding meteorite

NASA and international team find remarkable detail of meteorite that exploded over Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February

NASA scientists and a team of 59 international experts today detailed some of their findings about the meteoroid that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, 2013. And what they have discovered so far is pretty amazing.

Part of what makes the details of the explosion so explicit is the fact for one of the few times in history, the Chelyabinsk incident was well observed by citizen cameras and other recording methods.

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"This provided a unique opportunity for researchers to calibrate the event, with implications for the study of near-Earth objects (NEOs) and developing hazard mitigation strategies for planetary defense. Scientists from nine countries have now established a new benchmark for future asteroid impact modeling," NASA said. 

"Our goal was to understand all circumstances that resulted in the shock wave," said meteor expert Peter Jenniskens, co-lead author of a report published in the journal Science. Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer at NASA's Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute. A blog tracing the study can be followed here.

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Some of the most interesting discoveries so far include:

  • The impact speed of the meteor at 42,500 mph (19 kilometers per second).
  • The small asteroid was approximately 56 to 66 feet (17 to 20 meters) in diameter.
  • Doppler radar helped the team and others locate many pieces of the meteorite.
  • As the meteor penetrated through the atmosphere, it efficiently fragmented into pieces, peaking at 19 miles (30 kilometers) above the surface.
  • At that point the light of the meteor appeared brighter than the sun, even for people 62 miles (100 kilometers) away.
  • Due to the extreme heat, many of the pieces of the debris vaporized before falling out of the orange glowing debris cloud.
  • Scientists believe that between 9,000 to 13,000 pound (4,000 to 6,000 kilograms) of meteorites fell to the ground. This included one fragment approximately 1,400pound (650 kilogram) recovered from Lake Chebarkul on October 16, 2013, by professional divers guided by Ural Federal University researchers.
  • NASA researchers participating consortium study suspect that the abundance of shock fractures in the rock contributed its break up in the upper atmosphere. Meteorites made available by Chelyabinsk State University researchers were analyzed to learn about the origin of the shock veins and their physical properties. The impact that created the shock veins may have occurred as long ago as 4.4 billion years. This would have been 115 million years after the formation of the solar system, according to the research team, who found that the meteorites had experienced a significant impact event at that time.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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