Meteors, Myself and Ison

Science, Technology 2013-02-15

This morning I woke up, as I suspect many of us did, to the extraordinary videos of a meteorite impact in Russia. As a topic that never goes far beyond Hollywood or a handful of tin-hat wearing conspiracy theorists it seemed bizarre to see ordinary people, in their average uneventful days confronted by a streaking fire ball across the sky.

In case all this news had you tied up about asteroid nomenclature here’s a handy diagram. Which neatly covers the meteor vs meteorite distinction.

So now meteorites have wrestled away our attention, let’s have a look at their story through the ages.


Brought life to Earth

We owe the humble meteorite far more credit than it gets, as interstellar transmission of organics may just be what spawned life on our previously barren planet.


Killed dinosaurs

What a meteorite can give, a meteorite can take away and after spawning all life on Earth the next meteorite on this list killed off a large chunk of it and finished, with aplomb, the extinction of the dinosaurs. What was bad news for the dinosaurs turned out to be an open door for mammals, as the very distant ancestors of modern day animals took centre stage. The meteorite left a 180km crater, in modern Mexico, so immeasurably huge that no-one picked up on it until 1980.



Skip forward 60-odd million years and a fair few asteroid impacts, mostly creating the obligatory crater or so we assumed, and in 1908 we saw a new pattern of destruction in the shape of a meteor over Russia. The 50 meter meteor exploded in mid air over the Siberian forest levelling over 2000 square km of trees.


Paine Projection

By 2000, our desperation to hand everything over to computers got the better of us and an Australian man named Michael Paine drew up a computer projection for potential asteroid impacts. The alarming stats produced suggested that every 90 years one asteroid will kill on average 120,00 people, unless it created a tsunami which could kill up to 470,000. These frightening stats added to the already scary 1994 Shoemaker-Levy asteroid smashing into Jupiter, creating devastation on a scale greater than Earth itself and led to a great increase in the fear of meteorite impacts.



Still, it probably wasn’t top of your mind until this morning and the alien scenes of a meteorite impact in Chelyabinsk in Russia. Thankfully no-one was fatally hurt by the impact (at the time of writing) but almost 1000 people have been injured, mostly from windows shattering.


Here a couple of videos of the event.

Dashboard camera view

On the street, feeling the effects of the shockwave



Those videos showcase a once in a lifetime sight, though anyone with a telescope or a good pair of binoculars can catch a glimpse of an asteroid for themself tonight in a far less terrifying environment. The asteroid, which is completely unrelated to the Russian impact is the 15 storey high 2012DA14. Astronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, cheerily notes, that while it won’t hit the Earth on this pass-by, when it inevitably does it will likely detonate in the atmosphere with 1000x the force of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.


Panstarrs & Ison

Later in the year we’ll be treated to two incredibly bright comets that may outshine the moon on some nights. Here’s a link to an astronomer’s very promising projections.


Looking out for your rock

These events remind me that more than just being the digital guy at a global marketing agency sat at my desk in Manchester, I’m a digital guy sat on a huge chunk of rock travelling through an infinite void full of an uncountable number of other rocks. Luckily for our special chunk of rock though we’ve got the intelligence and ingenuity of the best of those 60 odd million years’ evolution since the dinosaurs making sure we’re not dealt the same bad hand as the dinosaurs, or at least we will know well in advance.