Saturday, February 16, 2013

Russian meteor strike provides a wake up call

Friday's meteor strike in south-east Russia has brought more than one wake up call for the inhabitants of Earth. As well as alerting Earth's inhabitants to the dangers of asteroids, the recording of the event by dashboard cameras has once again highlighted the growing incidence of staged accidents.

Hundreds injured

The meteor, estimated to have weighed around 10 tonnes, broke up some 30 km above the Earth's surface and sent fragments travelling at up to 100,000 km/h across an area of more than 400 square kilometres.

Around 1,200 people were injured in the city of Chelyabinsk, including 200 children, mostly by shattered glass which was blown out of windows from the shockwave.

The fireball was seen hundreds of kilometres away and recorded by CCTV cameras, cameras in mobile phones and also by dozens of dashboard cameras fitted in cars [BBC / Sky News / CNN].


Parts of the meteor came down inn Chebarkul Lake, 72 km from Chelyabinsk, punching holes in the ice [Twitpic]. Scientists and experts will be interested in analysing any fragments that might be able to be recovered [2013 Russian meteor event / BBC / Sky News].

While such incidents are rare, Friday's strike was a deadly reminder of the threat posed by asteroids. The meteor which struck near to Chelyabinsk was relatively small, being perhaps only 17 metres in diameter before it broke up.  It could have been far worse.

Coincidental near miss

The meteor strike coincided with the passing of asteroid 2012 DA14 which passed within 28,000 km of the Earth. The 50 metre object could have caused widespread devastation should it have collided with the Earth [BBC / NASA].

In 1908 a comet or meteor estimated at around 100 metres entered the Earth's atmosphere over Siberia causing widespread damage and a flash that was witnessed thousands of kilometres away.

Historical warnings

Known as the Tunguska event it  is the largest impact event on or near Earth in recorded history. Although the meteoroid or comet appeared to have burst in the air rather than hitting the surface, the event is still referred to as an impact.

Estimates of the energy of the blast range from 5 to as high as 30 megatons of TNT with 10–15 megatons of TNT being the most likely estimate, roughly equal to the United States' Castle Bravo thermonuclear bomb tested on March 1, 1954 or about 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

The Tunguska explosion knocked down an estimated 80 million trees over an area covering 2,150 square kilometres, a circular area of around 52 km in diameter. An explosion of this magnitude is capable of destroying a large metropolitan area.

Of course such incidents are rare, but Friday's event will be a wake up call for scientists and politicians, who should be preparing for such a possibility.

Recording history

The event might also be a wake up call to motorists. The meteor strike was probably the most recorded such event in history due to the large number of dashboard cameras fitted in Russian cars.

The devices are fitted in order to help provide evidence to courts and insurance companies in the event of a crash. Staged accidents are on the increase in parts of Russia and dashboard cameras can help provide evidence where there are legal disputes [BBC / Business Insider]. 

Staged accidents

While popular amongst Russian drivers, the devices, costing between £100 and £300, are likely to grow in popularity in other parts of the world. Staged accidents are not peculiar to Russia. In Britain for example there were an estimated 30,000 such incidents in 2009, a number that is rising year on year [tvnewswatch: UK staged crashes on rise - Aug 2010]

In early February this year Essex police posted video showing dangerous tailgating on the M25 motorway [BBC]. But it is not only law enforcement who are making use of such technology to entrap dangerous drivers. Some drivers have deployed the devices in their vehicles to record their journeys and posted them to YouTube.

The quality provided by these cameras is exceptional, given the relatively low cost, and the recordings are stored on a memory card rather than tape. Some devices such as the RoadHawk even records GPS data along with the speed of the vehicle.

The use of such cameras may in the future reduce insurance premiums, if they are considered to be beneficial - encouraging drivers with the devices installed to drive more carefully.

In addition they may provide an increased amount of fascinating footage of incidents and events, though be prepared also for the claims the cameras are another invasion of privacy.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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