A Russian meteor blast that has reportedly injured more than 500 people appears unconnected to the flyby Friday of an asteroid passing close to Earth, according to astronomers.
The 13-story-size asteroid, 2012 DA14, passes within 17,100 miles of Earth around 2:24 p.m. ET on Friday before heading off into space. The Russian meteor, likely about the size of a sports utility vehicle and weighing perhaps 11 tons, struck Russia’s Chelyabinsk region, about 900 miles east of Moscow late Thursday, according to news reports.
"The Earth travels about a million miles in a day and these are two events separated by almost 24 hours, so it is unlikely they are connected," says asteroid expert Richard Binzel of MIT. Meteors the size of the Russian one hit Earth every few years, Binzel says, but land near inhabited places much less often. "We just have the incredible coincidence of this happening just before the asteroid flies by," Binzel says.
Further, the Russian meteor landed in the Northern hemisphere while Asteroid 2012 DA14 is approaching from the direction of the South Pole, arguing against a connection. The damage in Chelyabinsk, reportedly broken windows, was caused by the air pressure wave created when the meteor zoomed into the Earth’s atmosphere at perhaps 33,000 mph.
"It’s nice of Nature to give us the full spectrum of possibilities," Binzel says. Astronomers will want to recover whatever pieces of the Russian meteor remain for study in the lab. The space rocks are thought to be leftovers from the era of the Earth’s formation.
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