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Chelyabinsk asteroid: A wake-up call from space


Ten years ago, an asteroid burst in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk. The event changed awareness of asteroids.

Ten years ago, an asteroid burst in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk.

The event changed awareness of asteroids.

Chelyabinsk – It must have been a shock for the residents of Chelyabinsk, Russia: On February 15, 2013 at around 9:20 a.m. local time, a bright flash of light could be seen in the sky, followed shortly afterwards by a powerful explosion.

Panes shattered, around 1,500 people were injured - mostly from broken window glass.

This resulted in millions of dollars in damage.

The trigger: an almost 20 meter large asteroid that entered the earth's atmosphere over the Urals and exploded there.

The so-called "Chelyabinsk meteor" was just the right timing for experts who want to raise awareness that asteroids can pose a possible threat.

"At that time, attempts were being made to create awareness that asteroids posed a potential danger," recalls Richard Moissl, head of asteroid defense at the European space agency ESA.

"The Chelyabinsk asteroid really raised awareness to another level," he tells from IPPEN.MEDIA.

Chelyabinsk asteroid came from the direction of the sun – warning impossible

Because the asteroid came from the direction of the sun, nobody could see it in time, a warning was impossible.

It would be no different today, explains Moissl.

“As of today, we could not see the Chelyabinsk asteroid either.

He would come out of the blue sky just as unprepared.

And that's exactly the problem, that blue sky, that stray light in the Earth's atmosphere."


On March 15, 2013, an asteroid about 20 meters across entered Earth's atmosphere over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk and exploded there.

(archive image)

© dpa/Ria Novosti

In the future, Esa would also like to be able to discover asteroids that come from near the sun.

But that's neither easy nor cheap, as Moissl knows: "The method of choice is a space-based telescope that can observe in the infrared." Esa was given a mandate to research such a mission and to develop the technology for it, he says.

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Search for asteroids: Nasa plans asteroid telescope

The US space agency Nasa is already one step further: The financing of the space telescope "NEO Surveyor" is already in place.

In space, the telescope is primarily intended to look out for asteroids that have a diameter of 150 meters or more and could pose a threat to Earth.

But even with NASA's planned space-based telescope, the Chelyabinsk asteroid would not have been seen in time.

"It came too far from the direction of the sun for that," explains the asteroid expert.


A fragment of the asteroid was found in a lake near Chelyabinsk after the crash.

(archive image)

© Itar-Tass/dpa

The planned Esa telescope should be able to look even closer to the sun than the NASA telescope.

Moissl's goal: "We want to see objects with a size from about 40 meters up to several weeks before the impact."

More than 31,000 near-Earth asteroids are known, 1440 are dangerous

Researchers are currently aware of more than 31,000 near-Earth asteroids, of which 1,440 are on the Esa risk list.

That means they have a non-negligible risk of colliding with Earth in the next 100 years, Moissl said.

“They are then observed to either confirm or reject them.

Generally it is discarded.”




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A software examines the trajectories of new asteroids for possible collisions.

If she spots a celestial body that appears to be on a collision course with Earth, the head of ESA's asteroid defense and several team members receive a warning on their mobile phones.

"Last year that happened twice, in March and in November," recalls Moissl.

However, there were small objects about which the population did not have to be warned.

Dangerous Asteroid Warning Protocol

Should a dangerous asteroid be discovered, there is a warning protocol with which the authorities and the public are informed.

The background is that “every human being theoretically has the opportunity to see through a telescope that an asteroid is coming.

It is therefore very important that we communicate openly and are transparent.”

Had the Chelyabinsk asteroid been spotted in advance, early communication could have made a difference.

Moissl is certain that just a warning to the population to open the windows and stay away from them "would have significantly reduced damage to material and people".

But he also says: “As terrible as the event was for the world – without it we would not be where we are today.

We probably would have had to do persuasion work for many more years.” (tab)

List of rubrics: © dpa/Ria Novosti

Source: merkur

All news articles on 2023-02-15

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