The Chelyabinsk Surprise
Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.
Earth has been visited lately, not by aliens in flying saucers, but rocks of varying sizes the appearance of which has caused quite a stir. That earth gets hit is not really news. Several thousand objects collide with our atmosphere each day, most the size of a grain of sand. A few are larger, perhaps baseball-sized. Once a week on average Earth receives a rock about the size of a house. Most burn up in the atmosphere, the larger ones lighting up the sky. The American Meteor Society website lists reports of fireballs happening virtually every day. Damage from these is non-existent to slight. But lately, it seems that the sky has gotten much busier.
March 22nd, a rock estimated to be 3 feet wide lit up the skies over the eastern U.S., generating sighting reports from 13 states. On the night of March 16th, another fireball created by a rock of as-yet unknown size was seen over North and South Carolina, and Tennessee. While all this was going on, Comet Pan-STARRS was painting its tail across our planet’s skies.
Of course, everyone remembers the bomb over Chelyabinsk, Russia on February 15th. This 45-foot-wide rock exploded before hitting the ground, causing wide-spread damage and inflicting injuries on some 1,500 people. This was the same day that an expected visitor, a 150-footer called DA14, passed just above our atmosphere, below the altitude of our communication satellites. Scientists knew this one was coming, but the Chelyabinsk rock surprised everyone.
In the skies over Earth’s southern half, Pan-STARRS was accompanied by another cosmic snowball, Comet Lemmon. But the real…um…”star” of the show will be Comet ISON, which is expected to become visible in late November, and is predicted to be the brightest comet seen by anyone alive today. That’s exciting news. The last visible comet to fly by was Hale-Bopp 15 years ago. They’re rare events to be sure. To have three visible to humans in one year is amazing.
There’s also a troubling aspect to be considered.