Researchers believe the meteor that shook Chelyabinsk, Russia earlier this year could be a warning sign of what's to come. According to new studies, the space rock's origin and power suggest Earth may be at a much greater risk of asteroid impacts than previously thought. That's just terrific—sorry to ruin your week.
On Feb. 15, a 56-foot meteor traveling an estimated 40,000 miles per hour exploded over the quiet Russian city, damaging buildings and injuring hundreds. When the event took place, some astonishing facts came to light, such as the rock's powerful sonic boom and incredibly bright presence just before its bolide. It came without warning, though scientists have a pretty good idea of where it originated. Since then, the LL chondrite type meteor has been studied, and scientists now believe Earth is ten times more likely to be struck by meteors of similar size than previously thought.
In an effort to better understand exactly what happened, research teams combed Chelyabinsk and more than 50 villages in the region, watched hours of video and interviewed witnesses. When the meteor did pass through Earth's atmosphere, scientists believe it got its hottest and brightest at about 18 miles above sea level, where it then produced a shockwave powerful enough to knock people off of their feet. All said, about 3,600 apartment buildings were damaged, and about 1,200 people were sent to the hospital from injuries sustained.
"If humanity does not want to go the way of the dinosaurs, we need to study an event like this in detail," said Qing-Zhu Yin at the University of California, Davis.
A report from earlier this year claimed the Chelyabinsk meteor was part of a larger threat, and the new research corroborates that information. In fact, the Russian rock may have generated its own rubble that could still hit Earth. Scientists warned that meteors of similar size are actually too small to detect from Earth, and there are likely millions of them just floating around.
"Another body of this size could hit Earth without warning in the future," warned Jiri Borovicka, an astronomer at the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic. However, he did say that smaller asteroids aren't a global threat, and will likely only do minimal damage. Still, the Chelyabinsk rock produced plenty of power that must have scared the heck out of residents, so hopefully an incident like this can be avoided in the future.