Explosion made local scientists' day
The explosion of a meteor over the Ural Mountains in Russia Friday morning not only sent shock waves throughout that region, but also throughout the astronomical science community, making it a "great day" of study.
Local astronomy professors - including one who has had an asteroid named in his honor - were surprised to hear about the meteor that entered Earth's atmosphere at about 33,000 mph and exploded into pieces about 20 miles above the planet, causing a bright flash and exploding with the force of 20 atomic bombs, damaging about 3,000 buildings and shattering 1 million square feet of glass.
"Something like this happens once a year, but something of this size is a very rare occurrence," said Michael Shepard, professor of environmental, geographical and geological science at Bloomsburg University. "About 10 years ago, there was an event similar to this near Williamsport, but nothing on this big a scale."
What impressed Ned Ladd, professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, was the different angles and ways the city of Chelyabinsk was affected by the blast, as seen in videos on YouTube and other social media sites.
"This is an event that happens every day, but not this big and without all these different cameras around to capture it all in this fashion," Ladd said.
Ladd said that the bright flash is something that typically happens when meteors start to burn in the upper atmosphere, they are typically called "shooting stars."
"Usually the meteors that cause shooting stars are about the size of a quarter. This bolide, another term for big meteor, was about the size of a city bus," Ladd said. "It's very rare that an object of this size makes it to the lower atmosphere during daylight time and creates that much air pressure that it explodes with such force."
While the meteor was a surprise, its size paled in comparison to Asteroid 2012 DA14, a piece of space junk some called it, that is about the size of half a football field, that passed the earth Friday in close proximity.
Close proximity being defined as 17,500 away from the earth, it was closer than the satellites that helped NASA track it.
Shepard and his students were glued to several webcams around the world, watching for a glimpse of DA14.
"The Jet Propulsion Labs have some of the best tools for tracking the asteroid," Shepard said Friday afternoon. It just passed the earth about an hour ago, so it is heading back into its orbit."
While Shepard called Friday's pass "a close call," he said NASA does a great job of tracking any objects that may cause a potential threat to the Earth.
"In the past, there were about 100 to 200 asteroids being tracked," Shepard said. "Now there are about 4,000 or so that are being watched, but from what the research has told us, there won't be any problems for at least 50 years."
Not even from Asteroid 20392, named "Mikeshepard" by the International Astronomical Union in honor of Shepard's work.
"When you have devoted a lot of time to the study of asteroids like I have, they name one after you, but it's a tiny rock, so I've been told," the Bloomsburg professor said.
Still, both scientists agree Friday was a pretty eventful day in their field of study.
"This was something that I've always been interested in," Ladd said. "So to have both such events happen on the same day is pretty unusual and pretty great to study."