The meteor that slammed near the Ural mountains in Russia on Friday, 15th February, sent waves that not only broke some glass windows in the neighboring area but also shook news agencies that flashed amateur footage for the next day or two. Here's a an amateur footage if you missed it.
While astronomers and star gazers were busy waiting for 2012 DA14 's, a near-Earth Asteroid, fly-by our planet, the 'Russian meteor' as it is called now, moved in swiftly into our atmosphere and made its presence felt , before hitting a frozen lake in the Chelabinysk area. So, what difference does it make to our lives, if a two-meter wide rock falls from the sky?
Broadly speaking, the Russian meteor incident raises three questions:
First, of New Life!
According to theory of Panspermia, life originated elsewhere (in the solar system or outer space ) and came to the Earth via meteroids and developed here. Analyses and experiments have shown that bacteria can survive forces to the order of tens of billion Pascals, also survive in outer space for large periods of time and even live comfortably in the core of meteors. The ALH-84001 meteorite found in Antarctica in 1984, is claimed to have come from Mars and even contains structures similar to bacteria but at a nanometric scale, a topic of controversy in the scientific world but also a potential source of origin of life. Whether the meteor that now lies at the bottom of the lake in Russia carries life with it, can only be answered, once we find the pieces and analyse them.
Second, of Extinction!
A similar impact occurred recently in 1908, in Tunguska, again in Russia, when a meteor roughly estimated to 100 meters wide exploded above the surface of the Earth and released energies approximately 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, clearing off a 52km diameter area, roughly the size of a metropolitan city today.
Sixty five million years ago, the dinosaurs are believed to have been wiped off the face of the Earth by an asteroid that was about 10 kilometers wide. You might say that with modern technology and a little bit of inspiration from Armageddon (the movie), humans, today, can blow up asteroids in outer space. Well, that is not entirely true. We have in the past, managed to hit asteroids and drill holes in them to collect samples for analysis, breaking up an asteroid that is probably ten kilometers wide is different ball-game altogether. More than the availability of technology, it is the availability of information that is major hurdle in taking up such an action. The 2012 DA14 was spotted for the first time in 2012 (hence the name), and in 2013, the asteroid flew closer to us than the satellites that give us our digital TV subscriptions. It is expected to impact Earth between 2026 and 2069.
Third, who is watching the asteroids?
Space agencies aim to closely monitor the sky for asteroids that may impact Earth but is that enough? Preliminary information about the Russian meteor is still pouring in and space agencies are busy clarifying that the incident has no relation to the 2012 DA14 fly by. But the question that needs to be answered is why was no information available about this likely impact? Over 1200 people were left panic stricken and injured by a piece of rock about 2 meters wide that entered our atmosphere. Shouldn't we be doing more to watch our skies?
With its Sentinel Mission, The B612 Foundation is aiming to do exactly that! A not-for-profit, private space venture will orbit our Sun and monitor our space for asteroids that are likely to impact the Earth. Its launch its scheduled for 2017-2018 and you can help the Foundation with donations and/or getting involved.
For now, we can only wait for further information on this recent incident and hope that all meteroids that enter our atmosphere are no larger than a meter.