In Soviet Russia, asteroid plays YOU!

The nerd community had a bit of news earlier today: a meteor streaking across the skies of Russia.  Since everyone in Russia seems to have a dashcam (apparently it’s a car insurance requirement over there due to police/judicial corruption), we even got footage of it:

While the meteor didn’t cause any damage itself, the sonic blasts were significantly more destructive; current reports seem to indicate around 400 injured, mainly from broken/falling glass.  Not surprising: the sonic wave arrived ~30 seconds after the meteor passed over, and a lot of people would have been at various windows having a look at what had just happened (and in their defence, if I saw a massive flare like that, with a beautiful contrail in its wake, I’d be out there as well trying to get photos for this blog!).  It’s similar to tsunamis: most fatalities happen to people who chase the receding sea, unaware that the reason for the receding waters is that they’re about to un-recede in a rather spectacular and destructive way.

(You may want to turn your speakers/headclamps down for the sonic blast videos, unless you either enjoy extremely loud bangs or you’d like a crash course in Russian swear words…)

Of course, being Russia and therefore having Russian temperatues, blown-out windows are a serious problem in winter, so hopefully the emergency services there are more jacked up than ours.

The big question here is: is this related to the asteroid 2012 DA14?  For those of you living under a rock, it’s an asteroid with an estimated diameter of 50 meters, an estimated mass of 190,000 metric tons — and it will be passing approximately 27,000 kilometres from Earth’s surface in a few hours (19:25 UTC, 21:25 South African time).  Over on Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait seems to think that it’s totally unrelated:

For one thing, this occurred about 16 hours before DA14 passes. At 8 kilometers per second that’s nearly half a million kilometers away from DA14. That puts it on a totally different orbit.  For another, from the lighting, time of day, and videos showing the rising Sun, it looks like this was moving mostly east-to-west. I may be off, but that’s how it looks. DA14 is approaching Earth from the south, so any fragment of that rock would also appear to move south-to-north.

However, some folks over on Slashdot aren’t so sure:

Not necessarily. Imagine a basketball in front of you. That is the Earth. Now draw an imaginary line from your nose to the left side of the basketball. Your line is going east to west. Now draw another line to the right of the basketball. Your line is now going west to east. Same point of origin. Same basic direction of movement. Different perceived trajectory for those living on the basketball.

Information on the meteor is still rather sketchy, although we may get a better picture in the next few days — it appears that the meteor broke up in the atmosphere and may have rained down some chunks on the ground.  If true, and if and when those chunks are found, we may learn more.

For now, I’m going to have to end off with this image by EUMETSAT, showing the vapour trail:

Meteor vapour trail, 15th Feb 2013

UPDATE: 6000.co.za reminded me that something similar happened in Gauteng back in 2009.

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