Monday, February 18, 2013

Meteor Over Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia (Feb 15th 2013)

There are some natural disasters which are so rare that the chances of someone seeing them happen in front of their own eyes are very slim (fortunately). However, the chances of these natural disasters happening somewhere on the planet during someone's lifetime are pretty good. For example, there have occurred 4 earthquakes above 9.0 on the Richter scale and 16 equal or above 8.5 during the lifetime of someone who is 80 years old as of 2013 (born in 1933).

Before the 1800s people might not even learn about major natural disasters, unless the events were documented in written history or at least transmitted from generation to generation through stories. In the 19th century, telegraphy and newspapers for the first time made it possible for the broad public to learn in significant detail about a natural event which had occurred anywhere in the world. After the 1920s radio took over, and following the 1950s through television, not only could you be informed of a natural disaster that had occurred, but you could also see video of it happening, sometimes even live. Finally, from the first decade of the 21st century and onwards, the internet has allowed anyone who is close to a natural disaster to report on it. The fact that practically everyone nowadays carries video-audio recording equipment (a.k.a. cell phone) on them definitely helps.

Some natural disasters you can still only read about. For example, moderate (Eyjafjallajökull) to large (Mount St. Helens) volcanic eruptions have been recorded on video, but hugely devastating ones similar to the Krakatoa and lake Toba volcano eruptions, which are of course a lot rarer, have not been recorded on video yet (and hopefully won't for hundreds or thousands of years). Tsunamis were another natural event that could only be imagined until the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake tsunamis (some may find videos disturbing) were recorded, broadcast/uploaded and thus witnessed all over the world.

But enough with the history lesson. One of the rarest natural events with immense destructive potential that has not been recorded on video yet is a meteor strike. We came close to that two days ago.

On February 15th 2013, 09:20 local time, a meteor passed over Chelyabinsk oblast, Russia, producing a fireball which emitted strong light as it burned in the atmosphere, as well as a shock wave which caused hundreds of injuries mainly due to fallen glass from shattered windows. It wasn't technically a meteor strike as it appears to have burnt in the atmosphere and no fragments that hit the ground have yet been found (hence its designation as a meteor and not a meteorite). The object was a few meters to 17m long with a mass of 6.4 to 9.1 million kg and entered the atmosphere at a speed of around 15km/sec (54.000km/h or 33.500mph). Its air burst (disintegration before it hit the ground) occurred at an altitude of 15-25km and the total energy released was in the order of 500 kilotons of TNT. That is 20-30 times more than the energy released by the atom bombs used against Hiroshima (16 kilotons of TNT) and Nagasaki (21 kilotons of TNT). 

Almost immediately, photos and videos depicting the event started appearing on social media.
Finally, the question everybody has been posing for the past couple of years has been answered:

"Why do so many Russian drivers have dashboard cameras?!"  
"So that they can record meteors and upload the footage to Youtube of course!"

Here are some of the best videos of the meteor and the shock wave:

Meteor streaks across the sky as this driver waits at a red light.

The light from the meteor burning up and the shadows it created as seen in Chelyabinsk.

Another one from a webcam in Chelyabinsk. It starts at around 0:44.
(on an unrelated note, I find their lack of traffic lanes disturbing)

The date and time are wrong in this one, but it has been reported as legit.

Here it is again at 01:15.

This driver exits at a junction right in time to catch a nice view of the meteor's trajectory.

This one is from Yekaterinburg, about 150km away from Chelyabinsk.

All hail the dashboard camera king. He has views of both the outside and the inside of the car.
Meteor is at 0:42.

Shock wave arrives at 0:27. Careful, it might be loud.

CAUTION, shock wave is loud and almost immediate in this one.

Again the shock wave and falling glass.

Kids at a school panic as they are near a window when the shock wave hits, causing the glass to break.

The meteor passes over the nearby town of Korkino and about a minute later the shock wave comes making snow fall off of some roofs.

Shock wave is at 0:12 in this one.

CCTV footage shows the effects of the shock wave.

CCTV footage of the light produced by the fireball (at 0:31) and the shock wave (01:25).

I wonder just how many people thought at first that this might be a nuclear attack...

(source, source and source)

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