10 years after the Chelyabinsk disaster, the threat of “invisible meteorites” is still present

Nobody saw him coming Chelyabinsk meteor of February 15, 2013, the largest asteroid to hit Earth in more than a century.

Just after dawn on a sunny winter day, a 20-meter, 13,000-ton asteroid smashed into the atmosphere over the Ural Mountains in Russia at a speed of more than 18 km/s.

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The relatively small rock It exploded in the atmosphere at a height of 30 km.releasing about half a megaton of energy (equivalent to 35 Hiroshima-sized bombs).

Two minutes later, the shock wave hit the ground, damaging thousands of buildings, breaking windows and injuring an estimated 1,600 people from flying glass shards.

But, How come no one noticed a 19-meter-wide meteor heading straight for Earth? The answer, scientists now say, is that the giant rock was hidden by the glare of the sun.

Worst of all, it wasn’t the only one, as experts warned that an “unknown” number of space rocks, hidden by the glare of our sun, may be headed for Planet Earth on unknown trajectories and undetected.

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“Asteroids the size of the Chelyabinsk meteorite hit Earth every 50-100 years”, explains Richard Moissl, Head of Planetary Defense at the European Space Agency (ESA).

“Asteroids the size of the Chelyabinsk meteorite hit Earth roughly every 50-100 years,” envisioned Richard Moissl, head of planetary defense at the European Space Agency.


“Injuries caused by airborne explosions or similar events could be prevented if people are informed of an approaching impact and its intended effects.

He added: “With prior warning, local authorities may advise the public to stay away from windows and glass.”

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To prevent future tragedies, ESA is ready to launch its orbiting observatory NEOMIR (Near-Earth Object Mission in the Infrared) which will act as an early warning system to detect and monitor any asteroid approaching Earth from the direction of the sun.

NEOMIR will be located at the ‘L1’ Lagrange point between Earth and the sun and, Moissl explained, “will detect asteroids such as Chelyabinsk coming from the same region of the sky as the sun, filling a vital gap in our current capabilities to predict and planning for dangerous impacts”.

Asteroid 418135 (2008 AG33) 20220427

NEOMIR will be located at the Lagrange point “L1” between the Earth and the Sun. Unaffected by Earth’s atmosphere, its infrared telescope will be able to detect asteroids 20 meters or larger lurking in sunlight.

Undisturbed by Earth’s atmosphere, its infrared telescope will be able to detect asteroids 20 meters and larger that currently lurk in the sunlight.

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ESA recognized that there is the possibility that an asteroid even larger than the one NEOMIR can detect could hit against Earth from the dayside, but such a scenario is less likely.

Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DCHe had previously said that discoveries of near-Earth objects (NEOs) are just beginning, partly due to the technological advancement of telescopes.


“New telescopic surveys are defying the sun’s glare and searching for asteroids toward the sun at twilight,” Sheppard wrote last year in a column in the journal Science. “These analyzes They found many previously undiscovered asteroids deep inside the Earth.”

There are more than 26,000 near-Earth asteroids, according to NASA, though only about 10,000 of them are larger than 450 feet (140 m). They are classified based on their position in our solar system; for example, Atiras orbits in the interior of the Earth and Vatiras in the interior of Venus.

According to NASA-funded experts, some asteroids can also “sneak up” to us thanks to a quirk of Earth’s rotation that makes them appear as if they’re barely moving, making them difficult to detect.

In 2026, the space telescope Near-Earth Object Surveyor (NEO Surveyor) from the US space agency will be launched to help detect more of these asteroids. It will be positioned between Earth and the Sun to better detect space rocks that cannot be seen at the moment due to their positions in space.


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