Meteor Shower Linked to DA14 Asteroid?
Experts are pondering whether a meteorite shower which caused panic in Russia, injuring over 900 people, devastating buildings and wiping out the cell phone network, is linked to today's fly-by of DA14, the "city killer" asteroid that NASA has assured will not hit the earth.
The meteor shower, which was dramatically captured by numerous people on cell phone videos, was described by some as "like a scene from the Armageddon movie," with YouTube clips showing a trail appearing across the sky before a dazzling bright object appears followed by loud booms.
The rocks crashed at around 9:20am local time, mainly over the sparsely populated city of Chelyabinsk, 900 miles east of Moscow. 20,000 rescue workers have been sent to aid recovery efforts, with the full extent of the damage not yet known. Windows were smashed and buildings were devastated, including the 6,000 square feet roof of a zinc factory, as some residents feared "doomsday" had arrived.
The main chunk of the meteor fell into a frozen lake, creating a huge hole in the ice. Experts are still undecided whether the event was caused by a meteor shower or a single meteor, as well as whether the damage was caused by the shock wave or actual debris, although residents reported fireballs crashing to the ground.
Space experts are divided on whether the meteor is connected to today's fly-by of asteroid DA14, which will pass within 17,200 miles of the earth's surface, closer than many orbiting satellites.
The European Space Agency (ESA) put out a message on its official Twitter account claiming that the meteor shower was not debris from the DA14 asteroid.
However, Tatiana Bordovitsina, an astronomy professor at Tomsk State University in western Siberia, told RIA Novosti that the meteor, "could have been debris preceding the asteroid."
Professor Ian Crawford of Birkbeck University told Sky News that, "it was too early to tell if this incident was connected to the asteroid passing by the earth tonight," but added that if meteorites were traveling with the asteroid, they would be several hours ahead of it.
Curtin University asteroid expert Phil Bland told an Australian website, "Is it connected to the flyby? A lot of folks would say “no”. Personally, I’ve always kind of liked the idea that there are streams of asteroid debris – so you can have smaller stuff that precede and trail a bigger object. It seems like an awful big coincidence if it’s not connected."
Simon O’Toole, an astronomer at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, thinks that there is unlikely to be a connection. "As pointed out elsewhere, DA14 is still half a million kilometres away, travelling at 8km per second, for a start! Could it be part of the asteroid that has broken away and reached earth already? This seems unlikely to me," he said.
Dr Stephen Lowry, planetary scientist at the University of Kent, doubted the connection but remarked that the meteorite shower was "an incredible conincidence."
"If I had to bet, I would say it’s not related. But it’s not unheard of for asteroids to have companion bodies with them," said Mark Ford of the British and Irish Meteorite Society.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reacted to the incident by warning that the "whole planet" is vulnerable to near-earth objects, while nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky even claimed the event was actually "the test of a new weapon by the Americans," adding that, "[Secretary of state John] Kerry warned [foreign minister Sergei] Lavrov on Monday ... that there would be such a provocation and that it might affect Russia."
Officials issued a statement assuring that no nuclear sites had been hit by the meteor and that no radiation leaks had been recorded.
Watch more videos of the meteorite shower below.