2 space rocks hours apart point up the danger

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Over 400 people were injured on Friday when a meteor burned up above the central Russian city of Chelyabinsk, unleashing a shock wave that shattered panes of glass, the emergencies ministry says.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida—A space rock even bigger than the meteor that exploded like an atom bomb over Russia could drop out of the sky unannounced at any time and wreak havoc on a city. And Hollywood to the contrary, there isn’t much the world’s scientists and generals can do about it.

But some former astronauts want to give the world a fighting chance.

They’re hopeful Friday’s cosmic coincidence — Earth’s close brush with a 150-foot (46-meter) asteroid, hours after the 49-foot (15-meter) meteor struck in Russia — will draw attention to the dangers lurking in outer space and lead to action, such as better detection and tracking of asteroids.

“After today, a lot of people will be paying attention,” said Rusty Schweickart, who flew on Apollo 9 in 1969, helped establish the planet-protecting B612 Foundation and has been warning NASA for years to put more muscle and money into a heightened asteroid alert.

Earth is menaced all the time by meteors, which are chunks of asteroids or comets that enter Earth’s atmosphere. But many if not most of them are simply too small to detect from afar with the tools now available to astronomers.

The meteor that shattered over the Ural Mountains was estimated to be 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. It blew out thousands of windows and left more than 1,000 people injured in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million. And yet no one saw it coming; it was about the size of a bus.

“This is a tiny asteroid,” said astronomer Paul Chodas, who works in NASA’s Near-Earth Object program in Pasadena, California “It would be very faint and difficult to detect — not impossible, but difficult.”

As for the three-times-longer asteroid that hurtled by Earth later in the day Friday, passing closer to the planet than some communications satellites, astronomers in Spain did not even discover it until a year ago. That would have been too late for pre-emptive action — such as the launch of a deflecting spacecraft — if it had been on a collision course with Earth.

Asteroid 2012 DA14, as it is known, passed harmlessly within 17,150 miles (27,599 kilometers) of Earth, zooming by at 17,400 mph (28,001 kph), or 5 miles (8 kilometers) per second.

Scientists believe there are anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million “near-Earth” asteroids comparable in size to DA14 or bigger out there. But less than 1 percent have actually been spotted. Astronomers have catalogued only 9,600 of them, of which nearly 1,300 are bigger than 0.6 miles (0.97 kilometers).

Earth’s atmosphere gets hit with 100 tons of junk every day, most of it the size of sand, and most of it burning up before it reaches the ground, according to NASA.

“These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don’t see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas. This one was an exception,” NASA’s Jim Green, director of planetary science, said of the meteor in Russia.

A 100 to 130-foot (30 to 40-meter) asteroid exploded over Siberia in 1908 and flattened 825 square miles (2,137 square kilometers) of forest, while the rock that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was a monster 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) across.

The chances of Earth getting hit without warning by one of the big ones are “extremely low, so low that it’s ridiculous. But the smaller ones are quite different,” Schweickart said. He warned: “If we get hit by one of them, it’s most likely we wouldn’t have known anything about it before it hit.”

Chodas said the meteor strike in Russia is “like Mother Nature is showing us what a small one — a tiny one, really — can do.”

All this points up the need for more money for tracking of near-Earth objects, according to Schweickart and the former space shuttle and station astronaut who now heads up the B612 Foundation, Ed Lu.

A few years ago, Schweickart and others recommended NASA launch a $250 million-a-year program to survey asteroids and work up a deflection plan. After 10 years of cataloging, the annual price tag could drop to $75 million, they said.

“Unfortunately, NASA never acted on any of our recommendations,” he lamented. “So the result of it is that instead of having $250 million a year and working on this actively, NASA now has $20 million. … It’s peanuts.”

Congress immediately weighed in on Friday.

“Today’s events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, A Republican and chairman of the House science, space and technology committee. He called for a hearing in the coming weeks.

Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said the space agency takes asteroid threats seriously and has poured money into looking for ways to better spot them. Annual spending on asteroid-detection at NASA has gone from $4 million a few years ago to $20 million now.

“NASA has recognized that asteroids and meteoroids and orbital debris pose a bigger problem than anybody anticipated decades ago,” Cooke said.

Schweickart’s B612 Foundation — named after the asteroid in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “Le Petit Prince” — has been unwilling to wait on the sidelines and is putting together a privately funded mission to launch an infrared telescope that would orbit the sun to hunt and track asteroids.

Its need cannot be underestimated, Schweickart warned. Real life is unlike movies such as “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact.” Scientists will need to know 15, 20 or 30 years in advance of a killer rock’s approach to undertake an effective asteroid-deflection campaign, he said, because it would take a long time for the spacecraft to reach the asteroid for a good nudge.

“That’s why we want to find them now,” he said.

As Chodas observed Friday, “It’s like a shooting gallery here.”

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  • Bojo Mojo

    “The meteor that shattered over the Ural Mountains was estimated to be 20
    times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during
    World War II..”

    WHAAATTT !!!!….i don’t believe this!…oh come on!…hiroshima atomic bomb killed over 200,000 japanese…russian meteor injured over 400 people only without even a single death reported….if it was really 20 times more powerful than hiroshima, it could have killed millions of russians…

    • Bisdak_kaayo

      Its because, the earth’s atmosphere (ionoshpere) somehow reduced it to fragments before it impacts the earth.

      It could have been a different story, if our planet does not have an atmosphere, like the moon.

    • stoich_craw

      The meteor exploded 20 km above earth, not a direct hit on the ground, imagine if its a direct one, everyone there will kiss goodbye to russia. But even so, it caused considerable damages from the sonic boom. The injuries sustained came from shattered roofs and window glasses caused by the sonic boom. What hit on ural mountains were just cute fragments. :-)

      • Mr_Ben

         Sonic boom pa lang yan ha. I can’t imagine How far the damage would be on direct impact.

    • magsasakasanayon

      it’s because of the distance. the hiroshima bomb exploded at about 2 km above ground while the russian meteor exploded 21 km above ground. if the meteor exploded just 2 km from the ground, then you do the math.

  • Twister12


  • dennis

    If the world can invent a weapon which is “Anti-Gravity” that will kick Asteroids and Meteors away from it´s trajectory point towards Earth then it will keep them away from us! One of the main reason why the impact create great damage and will not bounce is that,first,the composition of Asteroids and Meteor are mostly metal that always attract when there is a “gravitational pull”.Now,if there is a big laser gun,instead of bullet,it releases a rays or laser called “anti-gravity”(surface to air) at least we can already avert all casualties that will happen.EVERYTHING IS POSIBLE IF THE WORLD UNITE AND WORK AS ONE!

  • dennis

    Why is it that the world powers like (US,Russia,China,Iran,North Korea UK,Germany,France,Israel,Japan etc) Instead of making “Weapons that will destroy Asteroid” they are always keep them busy proving one another that “I´m the Greatest!” by making “Weapons of mass destruction”…..WHY?

    Why is it that there is always a big great price if you prove that you are belong to “Superpowers”rather than to think on how mankind can exist.

    • Namron


  • altair22

    Who among the Autobots or Decepticons are on that space rock?  I hope it’s Bumblebee…

  • Pablo316

    It follows then from the above information that the prophesied raining of hail weighing as much as 100 pounds and the falling of the stars (which could mean meteors or other heavenly objects) on earth in the Bible is now more credible than ever before at least in the point of view of an ordinary person. But as for us Bible-believing Christians every prophecy in the Bible will be 100-percent accurate and reliable.
    It would be good for people then to take a look into this book we call the Bible and see for themselves that indeed this is the written words of God.

    • magsasakasanayon

       i would suggest that you let a psychiatrist look at your head first, moron.

      • Franzeline Perdubal

        Pls refer to Pablo  your good Psychiatrist, man.

      • magsasakasanayon

        sorry. don’t know any psychiatrist. maybe you can refer the moron to yours.

      • Franzeline Perdubal

        Haha, pikon ka pala pero okay ka mang asar ng ibang tao. Get a life, dude!

      • Halo

        kampon ni satanas tong nasa taas ko

      • magsasakasanayon

        yup. and, let me guess, you are a saint by your own reckoning. geez. another moron.

    • Franzeline Perdubal

      Hayaan mo lang yung di naniniwala Pablo. Hayaan mong tawagin ka nila ng kung ano ano. Pagpalain ka nawa.

      • Pablo316

        Thanks kapatid, it’s expected that people who do not believe will act that way. The Lord Jesus Himself said that if they called Him Beelzebub, how much more those who believe in Him.

      • magsasakasanayon

        the only thing i believe is that you have a whole in your head the size of the meteor that exploded over russia, moron.

      • Franzeline Perdubal

        I admire how you call other people with names. It shows your intellect. Matalino ka sa tingin ko.

      • magsasakasanayon

        hey. i’m not calling people names; just merely pointing out the obvious. i mean, look at the guy. something spectacular but completely natural phenomenon happened and he quickly went ballistic with his Bible-quoting insanity. he’s a moron.

      • Franzeline Perdubal

        If i call you a moron, does that help?

        Learn how to digest other’s opinion. Name calling is a fifth grader’s thing.

        Wise move dude. Now move on.

      • magsasakasanayon

        if i call you a moron i will just be stating a fact. told you already i wasn’t name calling. learn how to digest simple declarations. very unwise move. now move on to a dump some place where you won’t be able to bug people. geez.

      • Franzeline Perdubal

        Hahaha. I always enjoy seeing  a guy like you online. 

        Have a great day, mo ron. 

    • Twister12

      If you have look at the bible solely mankind wont even know that we are just a speck of dust in the universe. 

    • P. Patrick Tukkers

      The bible is a just a book like any other unique book.
      If you really want to believe a book; take one without a Armageddon! :-P

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