May 4, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Close Encounters of the Celestial Kind: 2013 Multiple Asteroid Sightings Around The World

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Close_Encounters_Oracle_Article

Cosmic Shooting Gallery

[*The Chinese Year of the Snake (or Cosmic Serpent) is off to an appropriate start with the February 15th  bolide explosion over Russia.]

The article The Boy Who Cried Wolf: 2012, Fenrir and Asteroid DA14, which appeared in last month’s Oracle, was written in late January, prior to the passage on February 15 of Asteroid 2012 DA14 only 17,200 miles from Earth. DA14 was about 100 feet in diameter, a bit smaller than the meteorite that exploded over Siberia in 1908, but still large enough, if it were to impact Earth, to take out a large city with an explosion equal to 40 or 50 Hiroshima atomic bombs. The crater from the impact could have been nearly a mile across and up to 1000 feet deep. That’s a very large hole. Had it struck the ocean instead of land the ensuing tsunami would have been about 60 feet high or about twice the height, on average, of the tsunami that obliterated the Japanese coast in 2011. We can breathe a sigh of relief that DA14, while disconcertedly close in the cosmic sense, is headed back to the asteroid belt, from whence it came.

Unlike several dozen near misses of asteroids in the last 20 years that went largely unnoticed by the public at large, this close call was brought to the attention of a large percentage of the world’s population by the occurrence of a rather remarkable coincidence. While the passage of DA14 had been predicted well in advance, the aerial detonation of a large meteor, about 55 feet in diameter, over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk was totally unexpected. This explosion, which occurred between 12 and 15 miles up in the atmosphere was about 25 times more powerful than the atomic bombs deployed against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the blast wave struck the Earth over 1,200 people were injured and over 4 thousand buildings were damaged. Many sober minded astronomers commented on how extraordinary was the coincidence that within hours of the closest known flyby of an asteroid to Earth on record, the largest documented aerial burst of a meteor in over a hundred years occurred. The trajectories of these two objects, as well as their composition, were dissimilar enough to conclude that they were unrelated, which makes their arrival on the same day even more noteworthy. However the story gets stranger. The days surrounding the 15th of February were filled with remarkable cosmic activity, almost as if the Cosmos was intent on gaining the attention of planet Earth.

This explosion, which occurred between 12 and 15 miles up in the atmosphere was about 25 times more powerful than the atomic bombs deployed against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On Tuesday evening, Feb. 12, three days before the Russian event, there was a powerful and impressive meteor explosion over central Cuba, which shook buildings and scared the inhabitants. Several witnesses were interviewed by Cuban TV. One witness reported that “On Tuesday we left home to fish around five in the afternoon, and around 8:00 we saw a light in the heavens and then a big ball of fire, bigger than the sun.” Another witness, a woman at home at the time of the event remarked: “My home shook completely. I had never heard such a strange thing.”

On Thursday evening, Feb. 14, the night before the Russian meteor explosion, two separate brilliant fireballs were witnessed by thousands in San Francisco and southern California.

On that same day another huge fireball exploding over Japan was witnessed by many.

On Sunday the 17th about 7:30 in the evening, hundreds of residents along the SE coast of Florida witnessed multiple fireballs streaking across the sky.

For a few days surrounding the close passage of asteroid DA14, the heavens came alive with activity, almost as if to call attention to the fact that the time has come to remember what our ancestors of centuries and millennia ago knew, but has been forgotten, that what happens out there in the celestial realm can profoundly affect what happens here below.

For a few days surrounding the close passage of asteroid DA14, the heavens came alive with activity, almost as if to call attention to the fact that the time has come to remember what our ancestors of centuries and millennia ago knew, but has been forgotten, that what happens out there in the celestial realm can profoundly affect what happens here below.

Because of the cosmic coincidence of February 15, millions of people became aware of the fact that an asteroid made a dangerously close pass by Earth on that day. However, very few people are aware of the fact that on June 27, 2011 a small asteroid, 2011 MD, about the same size as the meteor which exploded over Russia on February 15, passed within 7,500 miles of the Earth, less than the diameter of the Earth itself and 10,000 miles closer than Asteroid 2012 DA14.

Or, that on October 7 of 2012 another asteroid, 2012 TV passed well within the orbit of the Moon. It was about 100 feet in diameter, about the size of DA14.

Or, that only five days later still another asteroid 2012 TC4, somewhat larger than the Russian meteor at about 56 feet in diameter, came within about 59,000 miles of the Earth. That’s about one quarter the distance to the Moon.

Or, that on March 2, 2009 an asteroid about the size of the Tunguska bolide was spotted as it passed within about 49,000 miles of the Earth, about a third the distance to the Moon.

Or, that on January 28, 2008 an asteroid about a thousand feet in diameter flew by just outside the orbit of the Moon.

Or, that on March 19, 2004 an asteroid about the same size as DA14 zipped by Earth at a distance of only 26,000 miles.

Or, that on September 27, 2003 an asteroid about the size of a house came within 54,000 miles of the Earth and was only discovered after it had passed.

Or, that on June 14, 2002, asteroid 2002 MN, 75 to 100 yards in diameter, zoomed within 75,000 miles of the Earth. That is nearly double the size of the meteor which exploded over Tunguska, Siberia in 1908 with the force of a giant hydrogen bomb.

Perhaps the most unsettling close encounter in recent times occurred on August 10, 1998. The object named 1998 ML14 was about 3,200 feet in diameter. At midnight Greenwich Mean Time this asteroid crossed the Earth’s orbit at the exact spot Earth had occupied 18 hours earlier. Had ML14 arrived at 6:00 am the previous morning and collided with the Earth, an area about the size of the states of Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky combined would have been utterly obliterated. Within two hours of impact most of the world’s vegetation would have been in flames and by October over one third of the human race would have been dead.

Had ML14 arrived at 6:00 am the previous morning and collided with the Earth, an area about the size of the states of Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky combined would have been utterly obliterated. Within two hours of impact most of the world’s vegetation would have been in flames and by October over one third of the human race would have been dead.

Between the years 1991 and 2000 there were no less than 9 close calls with cosmic objects.

It should be obvious by now that in its celestial journey, our beloved planet Earth is traversing a cosmic shooting gallery. And, geologists have become aware of the fact the Earth bears hundreds of scars from encounters with these denizens of the deep, and that the known impact scars, called astroblemes, represent only a small fraction of the total number of encounters which have occurred through geologic history.

How many wake-up calls is it going to take before the human race begins to pay attention?

Next month I will begin exploring the profound role cosmic encounters have played in Earth history, human history and mythology.

 

 

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