How massive was the meteor that narrowly missed striking the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Friday? According to NASA scientists via The Hindu, the celestial body released 300 to 500 kilotons of energy upon explosion — roughly the equivalent of 20 atomic bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This would make the Chelyabinsk meteor the largest since 1908, when a meteor struck the remote Siberian area of Tunguska, setting an estimated 80 million trees ablaze and creating an impact crater 5 miles across. The “Tunguska Event,” as it is known, generated up to 50 megatons of energy, lighting up the skies as far away as London.
Dr. Oleg Malkov of the Russian Science Academy Institute of Astronomy estimates based on its destructive power that the meteor that hit Tunguska was 60 meters in diameter. The object that exploded in the sky18 to 31 miles above Chelyabinsk was less than a third that size.
Whereas, however, the Tunguska meteor landed in a region that was deserted, Friday’s celestial event sent out shock waves that injured 1,200 people and shattered doors and windows in 3,724 apartment houses. Some 671 schools and 235 hospitals and outpatient clinics were affected. In fact, had yesterday’s meteor reached earth, it would likely have decimated the city of 3.5 million people, killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.
“I think yesterday was a second birthday for our region and its residents,” said Malkov, after inspecting the damage early this morning. “Had the meteor been a little bigger, it would have caused a real catastrophe.” He added that the near miss should serve a wake-up call to the international community, who, he said, needs to set up a system for monitoring meteors of similar size and providing advance warnings to the population:
Today we can spot about 10 percent of such objects as the Chelyabinsk meteor in the solar system. Ninety percent go undetected and some of them may crush on Earth any time.