February 17, 2013

Apocalypse Now?

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As the Sun set on December 21st 2012 on the apocalypse =-free earth, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. However, it seems this relief may have been premature.

Fragments from a ten-ton meteor, rained down over Russia, injuring as many as 985 people. Most of the injuries have not required hospitalization and are simply the result of shattering glass. The meteor is believed to have exploded upon entering the atmosphere, roughly 20 miles above the earth’s surface. Thankfully, no casualties have been reported.

However, its rubble collided with enough force to create a “powerful shock wave” that destroyed entire buildings in western Siberia. Witnesses described the phenomena as akin to “what you would see after an explosion” or a “burning cloud” streaking across the sky accompanied with deafening bangs.

The damage to the infrastructure of the city of Chelyabinsk is quite severe. Moreover, the shock wave interrupted mobile phone networks leading to mild (and understandable) panic in the region. Fortunately, the main fragment of the meteor is reported to have landed securely outside the city. Radiation levels have not been a problem, as of yet.

This is the second time a meteor has devastated the country. In 1908, a meteor entered the atmosphere above Russia and destroyed 80 million trees in an 820 square mile region. Previously, however, the meteor’ impact on the Russian population was more minimal since it entered the damage occurred in a more remote area of Siberia.

This meteor was thought by some to be the precursor to a small asteroid (with a diameter of 46 meters) called 2012 DA14. The asteroid was predicted to pass within 17,100 miles of the earth on February 15th. However, NASA scientists insist that proximity the two events were coincidental and completely unrelated. Luckily, there was no collision between the asteroid and our planet.

It was possible to view the passing of 2012 DA14 through telescopes in East Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Humbling natural disasters reinforce the fragility of our planet and our susceptibility to forces beyond human control. No country in the world has the technological or military capability to eradicate these objects. Freak occurrences of this nature are notoriously unpredictable and unpreventable. Russia’s deputy prime minister is calling for an “international initiative to create a warning system” that would help mitigate the effects of such events in the future.

Original Author: Monica Sharma