Epic Russian Meteorite Slams into Clark Planetarium

Visitors can see meteorites from Russia’s 2013 Chelyabinsk Meteor Beginning Tuesday, August 9

By Guest Blogger: Jim Breitinger

This is part of the meteorite that crashed into Chelyabinsk, Russia on Febuary 15, 2013.

This is part of the meteorite that crashed into Chelyabinsk, Russia on Febuary 15, 2013.

On February 15, 2013 the largest known object to enter the Earth’s atmosphere since 1908 arrived from space over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The event, which was captured on Russian dashboard cameras, became an immediate YouTube sensation.

The asteroid measured 50 to 60 feet across and weighed 10,000 tons (about the same weight as the Eiffel Tower) at the time of impact. We do not often see these types of visitors from outer space.  Yet over the course of Earth’s history there have been many, including some that were much bigger, such as the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The impact with our atmosphere at Chelyabinsk released energy equivalent to about 30 times the power of the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima.

That’s a lot of power and we were very lucky.

The atmosphere absorbed most of the energy although 1,000 to 1,500 people sustained injuries—by far the most people hurt in recorded history from an event of this kind. Fortunately, nobody was killed. Almost all of the injuries came from broken glass as a result of the shock wave from the impact, which blew out many thousands of windows in and near Chelyabinsk.

As a part-time meteorite dealer and a member of the International Meteorite Collectors Association (IMCA), I was able to secure some of the first verified specimens of Chelyabinsk meteorites. I work in Utah for RIESTER, an advertising agency with a long relationship with Clark Planetarium. Tim Riester, our CEO, readily agreed to fund the acquisition of some of these fresh rocks from space for the planetarium. In addition, a meteorite-hunting friend of mine, Michael Farmer, donated a piece of broken glass from Chelyabinsk that he personally collected during a visit to Russia in March.

With the fresh-from-outer space specimens and the authentic Chelyabinsk glass, the talented staff at Clark constructed the new exhibit displayed next to its existing meteorite collection.

Two definitions:

A meteor is the phenomena of light in our atmosphere. Most meteors, also known as shooting stars, are from objects the size of a grain of sand. Larger objects generate fireballs, which occurred at Chelyabinsk where, for a short period, light appeared brighter than the sun.

A meteorite is a piece of an asteroid that survived entry through our atmosphere and made it to the surface of the Earth.

Despite beginning at up to 60 feet in diameter, the violence of colliding with the atmosphere and the force of the energy released during entry reduced Chelyabinsk to many thousands of rocks not much bigger than pebbles. The largest pieces found to date aren’t bigger than a large man’s fist.

The Chelyabinsk meteorite is what’s known as an ordinary chondrite or stony meteorite. By studying these visitors from space, scientists have unraveled the story of our early solar system. Meteorites, at four-plus billion years old, are the oldest rocks in our solar system dating back to the days when the planets were first forming. An important feature of these new meteorites is the brilliant fusion crust—a black crust on the outside that formed during the heated entry into our atmosphere.

Chelyabinsk is a once in a century type of event. Captured on video, people around the world have been able to share in the thrill of what looked like science fiction, but was in fact very, very real.

It is with great pleasure that I can play a small role in adding to the collection of my hometown planetarium. Visit Clark soon to see the Chelyabinsk meteorites, watch an IMAX movie, and enjoy learning about science in one of Utah’s premier science centers. Clark does an outstanding job of bringing science to life for visitors of all ages.

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One thought on “Epic Russian Meteorite Slams into Clark Planetarium

  1. Pingback: Helping to make a gift to Clark Planetarium | Mars to Jupiter

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