UND expert: Meteors common, but Russian one was rareA meteor exploding over Russia Friday sent out a glass-shattering shockwave from 30 miles up in the air, but sent waves of excitement through the Space Studies Department at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
By: By Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service, The Jamestown Sun
A meteor exploding over Russia Friday sent out a glass-shattering shockwave from 30 miles up in the air, but sent waves of excitement through the Space Studies Department at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Hundreds of small meteors enter Earth’s atmosphere each week, but ones like the estimated 7,000-ton Russian object are a rarity, according to space studies professor Mike Gaffey.
“These are natural events that occur all the time,” he said. “But then you have big ones like this that draw a lot of attention.”
NASA estimates the meteor was 49 feet wide before it broke up in the atmosphere. The resulting shockwave destroyed windows and sent glass flying — injuring about 1,100 people.
Gaffey said the explosion produced a force equal to 10,000 tons of TNT — about 5,000 tons shy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
“It’s a rare and spectacular event,” he said. “But lucky for us they are rare.”
Meteors weighing about 5 tons or less enter the atmosphere every day, but often burn up before hitting the ground, according to Gaffey. Others land in the ocean or rural areas where they go unnoticed.
If pieces of the Russian meteor did make it to the ground, they could provide researchers with more information about a variety of topics such as the geology of other planets and the formation of the solar system.
North Dakota has had its own run-in with a large meteorite. The Red Wing Creek structure is a prehistoric crater located about 15 miles southwest of Watford City.
The approximately 6-mile wide crater is not visible to passersby because it is buried under about 6,000 feet of rock. It is estimated to be 200 million years old and major oil deposits were discovered there in 1972, according to Gaffey.