Ball of Fire*

A big meteorite hit Norway last week — with a force equivalent to the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. From Aftenposten:

A-Meteoritt_6sek_j_410790h.jpgAt around 2:05 a.m. on Wednesday, residents of the northern part of Troms and the western areas of Finnmark could clearly see a ball of fire taking several seconds to travel across the sky.

A few minutes later an impact could be heard and geophysics and seismology research foundation NORSAR registered a powerful sound and seismic disturbances at 02:13.25 a.m. at their station in Karasjok.

Farmer Peter Bruvold was out on his farm in Lyngseidet with a camera because his mare Virika was about to foal for the first time.

"I saw a brilliant flash of light in the sky, and this became a light with a tail of smoke," Bruvold told Aftenposten.no. He photographed the object and then continued to tend to his animals when he heard an enormous crash.

"I heard the bang seven minutes later. It sounded like when you set off a solid charge of dynamite a kilometer (0.62 miles) away," Bruvold said.

Very little news about this, even on the long-tailed Internet. Sure, Troms is a remote area, north of the Arctic Circle. But: It's one planet. While a meteorite landing two-thirds of a mile from a farmer in the frozen north might seem like a faraway event, something like this could happen, and a global catastrophe would be the result.

If an asteroid crashes into the Earth, it is likely to splash down somewhere in the oceans that cover 70 percent of the planet's surface. Huge tsunami waves, spreading out from the impact site like the ripples from a rock tossed into a pond, would inundate heavily populated coastal areas. A computer simulation of an asteroid impact tsunami developed by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, shows waves as high as 400 feet sweeping onto the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

The researchers based their simulation on a real asteroid known to be on course for a close encounter with Earth eight centuries from now. Steven Ward, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at UCSC, and Erik Asphaug, an associate professor of Earth sciences, report their findings in the June issue of the Geophysical Journal International.

March 16, 2880, is the day the asteroid known as 1950 DA, a huge rock two-thirds of a mile in diameter, is due to swing so close to Earth it could slam into the Atlantic Ocean at 38,000 miles per hour. The probability of a direct hit is pretty small, but over the long timescales of Earth's history, asteroids this size and larger have periodically hammered the planet, sometimes with calamitous effects. The so-called K/T impact, for example, ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

"From a geologic perspective, events like this have happened many times in the past. Asteroids the size of 1950 DA have probably struck the Earth about 600 times since the age of the dinosaurs," Ward said.

Here's a link to the simulation. Have a nice day!

*UPDATE 6-12-06: The "Hiroshima" comparison was made by an astronomer at the University of Oslo, Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard. However, another Norwegian scientist disputes him:

Truls Lynne Hansen of the Northern Lights Observatory (Nordlysobservatoriet) in Tromsø disputes Røed Ødegaard's description, calling it an exaggeration.

"Our atmosphere is peppered with small stones from outer space all the time," Hansen told newspaper Aftenposten. "Most burn up and disappear, but some land here."

He thinks that what hit northern Norway last week was a stone weighing around 12 kilos (about 26 pounds). "Out in space it generated enormous speed, but after entering our atmosphere its tempo eased," Hansen said. "This kind of meteorite isn't radioactive and it's not glowing when it hits the ground."

 

In the same article, Aftenposten runs a somewhat inscrutable photo of the supposed impact site:Norway meteorite impact site.jpg

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