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2/19/2013 2:10:00 PM
Blazing a Trail -- Russian meteor a drop in a bucket compared with Northern Arizona strike
The meteor that blazed over Russia last week (below) caused damage and injuries, but the Hollinger meteor that created Arizona’s Meteor Crater (above) was three times as big.
The meteor that blazed over Russia last week (below) caused damage and injuries, but the Hollinger meteor that created Arizona’s Meteor Crater (above) was three times as big.

Jon Hutchinson
Staff Reporter

Henny Penny was right, "the sky is falling," or something similar in a Russian verse. It is falling regularly.

It was not a children's story, it was scary Friday in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in the Ural Mountains, when an object soared across the sky, with the resulting shock wave blowing out windows and damaging structures.

More than 1,000 people were injured from the blast, most from the shattering glass. Few have ever witnessed a meteor falling from the sky. And fear spread widely that the end of the earth was coming or unidentified flying objects or Americas were responsible.

We may not have had so many pictures of the shooting star had there not been so many "dash cams" in operation there.

It could have been much worse and has been in the past.

NASA said the meteor released nearly 500 kilotons of energy -- 33 times more than the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Fifty-three small meteorites have been recovered on the surface by scientists from Urals Federal University. One object punched a hole in the ice of the Chabarkul Lake.

NASA estimated the meteor's diameter at 55 feet and said it was the largest reported since 1908, when a meteor exploded over Tunguska in remote Siberia, destroying 80 million trees over an area of 820 square miles. Tunguska created a crater 28 miles in diameter. The meteor, if overlaid on Arizona, would be large enough to destroy the Verde Valley.

But that was nowhere near the largest impact. Those have had catastrophic results.

The Chicxulub Crater, a prehistoric crater buried beneath the Yucatan Peninsula, now in Mexico, is 112 miles in diameter. The impact is believed to have been the meteor that created a dust cloud resulting in the mass extinction of all dinosaurs on Earth, other than birdlike creatures.

Guides at Meteor Crater describe the recent meteor that penetrated the Russia airspace as a "stony" meteorite was more "earth-like" than the dense iron-nickel meteor that struck the open grassland of Arizona creating what today has become a popular tourist stop.

Because of the ablation-or shedding -- of material as the meteor penetrates the Earth's atmosphere, the object that struck Russia is estimated at only 5 to 10 percent iron content.

By comparison, the Barringer impact that created Meteor Crater is estimated to be 92 percent iron nickel and little of its mass was lost by ablation.

Meteor Crater was formed in the desert grassland 50,000 years before nearby Winslow was founded. It is now estimated to have been 150 feet in diameter, weighing several hundred thousand pounds with enough iron-nickel to produce 42,000 automobiles, according to Meteor Crater officials.

The crater is large enough to engulf a 60-story building at 550 feet deep.

The Vredefort impact crater in South Africa is thought to be the largest impact crater at 186 miles across. Now dubbed the Vredefort Dome, the site was added to the list of World Heritage sites because of its geologic interest.

Beaverhead Crater, spanning parts of Montana and Idaho is more than 60 miles in diameter.

A meteorite is an object that enters the earth's atmosphere and creates a fiery streak in the sky often called a shooting star. They may be tiny objects to massive boulders. The heat from the friction of the atmosphere is what creates the bright light.

A meteorite is an objects that survives the transit and collides with the earth.

Lowell Observatory and the University of Arizona Spacewatch program have been part of NASA's search for "near earth objects," comets or asteroids that enter the atmosphere and might present a hazard to the Earth.

Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office says of the Russian meteor, "we would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average, which means we're probably in the clear for a little while."

NASA is currently developing ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) meteor warning system in Hawaii, expected to be operation in 2015.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013
Article comment by: John m Windfeldt

Thank you for an interesting article.

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013
Article comment by: Rational Paranoia

Yes, the sky is falling, and not only as meteors. The Earth's gravity is acting as a giant vacuum cleaner that pulls an estimated 110 tons of space dust down upon us every day. Where does all this dust come from? We don't know for sure, but given that some folks want to send our trash into space, it's reasonable to assume that some advanced race of beings somewhere in our galaxy is doing just that. We may be getting a rain of floor sweepings from the Planet of Rats. Caution dictates the wearing of dust masks and hats!

Speaking of caution...A meteor capable of decimating a small city strikes the earth every thousand years of so and there's about a one-in-275,000 chance of any one of them hitting the Verde Valley. We need to begin preparations for this eventuality now, while we still have a chance.

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013
Article comment by: Slater Slater

I've been there and it truely is amazing.They have a theater there and it is very interesting
to watch the short film on the Arizona meteor

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Article comment by: Dan McLaughlin

Biggest difference being, no one was around to find the Az. meteor right after it struck the earth.

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Article comment by: Jim West

Mines bigger than yours.... seriously? geeesss.

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