Dust Plume From Exploding Russian Meteor Circled the Globe

By Tom Yulsman | August 15, 2013 1:45 pm

A screenshot from a NASA video showing how the plume of dust from the Chelyabinsk meteor circled the entire globe after exploding in the atmosphere. Click on the image for a larger version, and scroll to the bottom of the piece for the full video. (Source: NASA)

On the morning of Feb. 15, 2013, a 24 million pound meteor streaked through the atmosphere above Russia at more than 41,000 miles per hour — and exploded with more than 30 times the energy of the atom bomb that obliterated Hiroshima.

Now, scientists using both a computer model and data from the Suomi NPP satellite have learned that a plume of dust from the exploding meteor unexpectedly streamed up into the stratosphere and circled the entire Northern Hemisphere in four days.

NASA came out with a video today illustrating how this happened, and how the scientists figured it all out. A screenshot from the video (above) shows the dust plume as it circled all the way around the globe and back to Chelyabinsk. To watch the video itself, keep reading to the bottom, where I’ve embedded it.

You should also check out Corey Powell’s story in the Sept. 13 of Discover on developing early warning systems for killer asteroids. He points out that we are still woefully incapable of providing advanced warning of a strike from an asteroid the size the Chelyabinsk meteor. Here’s a short excerpt from his piece:

Dashboard-camera video of the white-hot rock streaking through the sky, replayed repeatedly on TV and online, boldly illustrated the threat asteroids pose. The footage also highlighted how little we’ve done about it. Just a few hours of advance notice would have made a huge difference in Chelyabinsk, but no observatory on Earth (or beyond) is capable of such a feat — even though the necessary technology is readily available.

John Tonry, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, is working furiously to implement that technology with the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS. When complete in 2015, the system will be sensitive enough to spot Chelyabinsk-scale asteroids about 24 hours before they strike. For larger objects, the kind that can lead to mass casualties, ATLAS could provide warning of up to a month.

Here’s the NASA video:

  • Buddy199

    !!

  • Jim Nelson

    I understand this was classified as a 100 year event. I’m assuming this classification came about due to the Tunguska event. Being the planet is 3/5 covered in water I can’t help wonder if 100 years is an accurate assessment. It’s possible I missed it but are there any reports on the large piece that crashed through the ice in one of the Russian lakes?

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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