Russian Meteorite Strike: Local astronomers, NASA react

5:30 PM, Feb 15, 2013   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida -- At St. Petersburg College -- which has both a planetarium and observatory -- they are in awe by what we're seeing coming out of Russia.

While most enthusiasts were planning to talk about a near-miss from an asteroid the size of a football field on Friday, they were instead, talking about the one we didn't see coming.

Craig Joseph, who heads the planetarium and observatory here was blown away by the images coming out of Russia this morning.

"I cannot remember one that's better recorded than this. The views that I've seen and the after-effects," he said in amazement.

At about 9:20 a.m. local time in Russia's Urals region, there were several cameras from several angles capturing a light growing in brightness. Then size. A trail. A blinding flash. And then a deafening,  earth shaking, glass shattering BOOM!

A 10-ton meteor, by some estimates the size of a bus, had entered Earth's atmosphere before breaking apart and showering three Russian regions with meteorites.

Jim Garvin with NASA was as shocked as anyone.

"This one had no warning. Came in as a fireball, and as it heated up, it actually exploded from that heat," said Garvin.

The meteor coincidentally struck Earth on the same day a much larger asteroid was scheduled for a near miss with our planet.

"And indeed it's a very different orbit, which tells us right away that these objects are unrelated," said Garvin.

Professor Joseph says Florida's closest brush with something like this may have been a rogue wave around Daytona Beach in July 1992 that swept away cars. Some speculate the 18-foot tsunami was created by "a very small asteroid that may have impacted out in the Atlantic somewhere and caused that," said Joseph.

NASA says it tracks about 9,000 "Near Earth Objects," but the one that hit Russia Friday, they never saw coming. It's unsettling for anyone who wonders what else we may be missing.

"Again, statistically, it's not likely to happen anytime soon, but you never know," said Joseph.

Of the 9,000 objects NASA is tracking, about 1,000 of them, they say, are large enough to cause catastrophic damage to our planet.

But the paths of those objects would not be of concern for hundreds of years.

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