Meteor Steals Asteroid’s Thunder

A meteor streaks over Russia, just before Earth’s close shave with an asteroid.

This post was updated around 10:00 p.m. ET.

This morning, Russians got a jolt a lot stronger than their morning coffee: A meteor blazed through the sky over Russia’s Ural Mountains, breaking apart in a violent explosion that created a shock wave that propagated to urban areas below, shattering windows and injuring hundreds of people.

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Its arrival was timely, given that an asteroid was slated to shave by Earth on Friday early afternoon (listen to Science Friday’s live coverage). “It’s incredible concidence to have them happening on the same day,” said Paul Chodas, a research scientist in the Near Earth Object Program office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a press conference today. The two rocks are unrelated, however—the meteor was traveling in a different direction than asteroid 2012 DA14, according to NASA.

They’re different in girth, too. Prior to entering Earth’s atmosphere, the Russian object was nearly 50 feet across, while the asteroid’s mass is—well, take our quiz to see how large it is.

Video clips from apparent bystanders, such as the one below, reveal the meteor’s smoke-like contrails and a loud sound like an explosion.

So how worried should we be about future events like this? A meteor similar in size to this one striking our planet is a relatively rare event—it happens about every 100 years or so, according to Chodas. On the other hand, literally tons of small meteoritic material hit Earth every day, but the debris just gets absorbed by our atmosphere. And if it’s any consolation, NASA surveys have found 95 percent of the near-Earth objects that are potential hazards to our planet, Chodas said. Let’s just hope that stuff stays far, far away.

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About Julie Leibach

Julie Leibach is a freelance science journalist and the former managing editor of online content for Science Friday.