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Asteroid coverup?

2002-03-20 16:59:31+00 by Shawn 19 comments

So, via /. I find out that CNN is reporting that not only has a large asteroid narrowly missed earth, but that we didn't even notice until 4 days later. But that's not the really disturbing part: While reading the story and talking to a guy in the office, I learn that an asteroid of this size hit Siberia in 1908. Why haven't I ever heard of this? Didn't anybody think this was worth mentioning back when I was in school??!!

[ related topics: History Space & Astronomy Astronomy ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-03-20 17:18:57+00 by: Pete

Are you kidding? If so, I need some sarcasm tags thrown in there. Hell, I've seen entire History Channel programs devoted to it. And it's mentioned in counter-culture outlets like "Ghostbusters."

In other shocking news Meteor Crater in Arizona has now been shown to be created by a meteor.

As for why it may have been left out of your schooling, nobody saw it happen and nobody was killed. There's a lot of nothing in Siberia.

#Comment made: 2002-03-20 17:20:21+00 by: Dan Lyke

I remember reading about one of the expeditions to find the Tunguska site in one of the children's magazines we got when I was a kid, probably Cricket. I think it's only been more recent than that, though, that it became clear that it was a meteorite.

Rant about the history they teach in school elided 'cause you've heard it before, and because until 7th grade I had a very different experience than normal school.

#Comment made: 2002-03-20 18:49:39+00 by: Shawn

Pete, no I'm not kidding. I know about Meteor Crater (although I didn't know that there was a question about whether it was actually created by a meteor or not), but I've never heard of any known/witnessed instance of a large meteor hitting the earth at all. Even if nobody was killed, you'd think somebody would have mentioned it. I watch the History Channel from time to time but it's not a staple for me and I don't remember ever seeing or hearing about a show on this.

?Ghostbusters? Where is the mention there?

Dan, I remember Cricket - great magazine. But I don't remember this particular story. Although, to be fair if they highlighted/introduced it with the word "Tunguska" (which means nothing to me) instead of "meteor impact" or "asteroid" I probably didn't pay any attention.

#Comment made: 2002-03-20 19:27:36+00 by: Pete [edit history]

Ray: You have been a participant in the biggest interdimensional cross-rip since the Tunguska blast of 1909.
Lewis: It felt great...
Egon: We'd like to get a sample of your brain tissue.
Lewis: Ok...

#Comment made: 2002-03-20 23:10:51+00 by: Shawn

Well there it is then; a simple mention of the word "Tunguska" isn't going to do it for somebody who doesn't know a meteor hit, much less where. [Aside from Ghostbusters (obviously),] I don't think I've ever heard the name before Dan posted the search link to Google.

#Comment made: 2002-03-20 23:29:04+00 by: Dan Lyke

It's probably something that's better known amongst the geek community, but I'll bet in the general population it'd draw total blanks. But even in the geek community, I think people are just now coming to grips with the scale of human endeavor, and that large meteor strikes (and, for that matter, seismic upheavals) are much more common than previously thought, it's just that it's only been in the last hundred years or so that we've had the technological level and population density to be affected.

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 00:09:17+00 by: John Anderson

point #1: has Tunguska been conclusivly shown to be a meteor impact? I seem to recall that there was a distinct lack of an impact crater; certainly nothing like what would have been expected to cause the tree damage (cue textbook picture of fallen trees all pointing in same direction).

point #2: was it Lucifer's Hammer[Wiki] that has the scene with the guy pointing out that any meteor impact, regardless of angle, will produce a perfectly round crater, and then pointing out all the features on a globe that look like arcs, that could possibly be old, huge craters? or, to put it another way -- look at the craters on the moon -- now figure what the odds are that the moon just happened to be in the way, and caught all the rocks instead of us... it's not a question of "when", it's a question of "how bad".

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 00:09:22+00 by: Shawn

<sigh> Once again, I'm faced with the prospect that I'm not nearly as geeky as I thought I was... :-/

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 00:24:02+00 by: Dan Lyke

#1: I'm not sure, I seem to recall reading something that concluded that if the stars came together in just the right way, atmospheric friction was enough to cause an "air burst" sort of effect without leaving a crater. Don't know about the 'all trees facing one way' thing.

#2: My assumption has always been that the moon looks that way 'cause it doesn't have an atmosphere or large regions of water, which probably do a good job of absorbing most of the impacts. But, yeah, there are plenty of natural disaster scenarios that could take out major metropolitan areas in a blink, and they've happened within this century, it's only a matter of time before something like that happens to a city in Europe or the US..

And Shawn, after I learned that a friend was the west coast champion of the Babylon 5 Collectible Card Game, I realized that not only was I not as geeky as I thought I was, I had no desire to be.

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 01:10:32+00 by: Uncorked

There was an interesting piece about this here on March 15th -- not sure how much is theory, though. I was embarrassed that I'd never heard about it before either -- at least not so that it registered on my consciousness.

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 01:24:46+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

#2: My assumption has always been that the moon looks that way 'cause it doesn't have an atmosphere or large regions of water

I do remember this being taught - at school - as the reason.

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 01:53:52+00 by: Pete [edit history]

My surprise was not that Shawn didn't know, but that he because he hadn't heard about it, it must have been a conspiracy.

It's been a topic of speculation among science observers because of many unusual characteristics:

ginormous energy
heard everywhere
no crater
mysterious, remote location
butterfly treefall pattern
trees at center left standing but stripped of branches

Every time some new phenomenon came along, suddenly it was the prime candidate. Meteor? Sure, why not. Aliens detonating a nuke? Sure, why not. Black hole hitting the atmosphere? Sure, why not. Interdimensional cross-rip? Sure, why not.

The reality appears to be much more prosaic. A meteor coming in hot and fast at a known specific angle and then airbursting. The major effects are accounted for by standard repeatable science, and have been for years.

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 02:00:10+00 by: whump

I'm reading Gregory Keyes' Age of Unreason series now, in which big rocks from space (as well as Newton, Franklin, and a host of others) figure highly, so the story was doubly amusing. Just look out for people trying to change the alchemical affinities of asteroids. :)

The reason we didn't know we were lucky until after the fact was the rock was approaching from sunwards, and it was relatively small.

That's why you have to map out the orbits of all the whizzing bits of cosmic debris bigger than a Chevy so you aren't "whoops!" when Cleveland evaporates.

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 02:09:55+00 by: Pete [edit history]

Tunguska pictures and summary: http://www.uwec.edu/physics/th.../Comets%20and%20Asteroids%20(226).ppt

Powerpoint, obviously.

#Comment made: 2002-03-21 04:20:03+00 by: John Anderson

Dan, WRT B5 card game: there's a certain je ne sais quois[Wiki] that distinguishes "geeks" from "nerds" 8^)=

Pete: You forgot my personal favorite, the antimatter meteor.

#Comment made: 2002-03-22 00:36:31+00 by: Pete

Sure, why not.

#Comment made: 2002-03-22 03:07:51+00 by: Shawn

My surprise was not that Shawn didn't know, but that he because he hadn't heard about it, it must have been a conspiracy.

Um... that was a joke. A bit too dry perhaps?

I didn't really think there was a cover-up. In general, I'm a pretty big poo-pooer of conspiracy theories (never could stand the X-Files). I just have a tendency to get creative with my headlines.

I am irritated that nobody thought it was worth mentioning during my school years, though.

#Comment made: 2002-03-22 04:47:27+00 by: Pete

Never let your schooling interfere with your education.

#Comment made: 2002-03-22 18:13:23+00 by: Shawn

Oh, it doesn't. It just serves as a continuing source of annoyance.