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Scientists reconstruct Russian meteor's path

February 26, 2013|By Joseph Serna
  • A dashboard camera caught the meteor streaking across the Russian sky on Feb. 15.
A dashboard camera caught the meteor streaking across the Russian sky on…

Colombian scientists have reconstructed the interplanetary path of a meteor that flamed across the Russian skyline this month and smashed into the countryside, leaving hundreds of people injured.

The meteor, estimated to be about 45 feet across and weighing 10,000 tons, was flung toward Earth as it orbited around the sun. It wasn’t a declaration of war by bugs on Klendathu after all.

Apparently, it was just a matter of time before it hit, researchers concluded in a study published this week on

The study's authors, from the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, triangulated the meteor’s position using landmarks, shadows and camera footage.

They selected two points in the meteor’s path to calculate its trajectory: when it burned through the atmosphere and the light emitted grew brightest, acting like a giant torch over the Russian sky, and when it exploded and blasted meteorites across the landscape. The researchers estimated the space rock’s height by measuring the shadow it cast on light poles seen in so many videos taken by dashboard-mounted cameras.

Other data points included the lake near Chelyabinsk where a meteor fragment landed and left a huge hole in the ice, and the center of Korkino, a small town to the south, where video showed the meteor passing overhead.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was an Apollo asteroid, the team concluded. Apollo asteroids are a class of asteroids with longer elliptical orbits than Earth. When they pass between Earth and the sun, they cross our orbital path.

The meteor struck Earth going about 40,000 mph, scientists estimated in the days after impact.

Below is a video the team created of the meteor’s estimated orbit for the last four years.

A copy of the paper is available here.

A video of the meteor's orbit compared to Earth and Mars is below.

Return to Science Now blog.


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