There’s no doubt that the explosion of the Chelyabinsk fireball over the southern Urals on 15th February has changed forever our once cuddly view of meteorite falls. Well, it has changed mine anyway. Of course there have been previous reports of meteorites doing nasty things, usually to pets and cattle it would seem. A dog was reportedly killed by the Martian meteorite Nakhla when it landed in Egypt in 1911 and a cow was almost certainly taken out in Venezuela in 1972 by an ordinary chondrite called Valera. And the devastation associated with the 1908 Tunguska event should have warned us that a decelerating bolide has the potential to wreack havoc. But still, the sights and sounds of Chelyabinsk came as quite a shock! Literally. Unlike Tunguska, the Chelyabinsk event took place over a populated region of Russia, which just happened to be brisling with dash cams and CCTV cameras. The result is the most photographed and videoed extraterrestrial incident ever. The explosion and shock from the fireball has caused widespread devastation and more than 500 people have sought medical treatment, mainly due to injuries from flying glass.
From a personal perspective the Chelyabinsk incident has led to an unprecedented level of media interest. A number of us here have been doing the rounds of TV newsrooms trying to explain an event that is clearly without precedent in modern times. It has certainly been exciting and mainly fun, but there is also a nagging doubt. Meteorites are not really cuddly, they have a dark side. Well just ask the dinosaurs. But of course you can’t and that’s the point.
Blog Image Credit: M. Ahmetvaleev/NASA