Saturday, February 16, 2013

Look! Up in the sky! It's...a meteor

I had a busy day yesterday. The details aren't important. And I only mention that fact in order to explain why I didn't write about the Russian meteor yesterday. Because I would have, if I had had the time.

I woke up to reports of the meteor, which exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk, in Russia early Friday morning their time. For such a serious event, some of the reporting and expert commentary was kind of, oh, casual. This included comments from theoretical physicist Michio Kaku on one of the morning shows, calling the event "as good as it gets". I understand that from the point of view of astrophysicists and such, it was an interesting event. However, I doubt that the residents of Chelyabinsk, a city of something over a million people just east of the Ural Mountains, would call the event "good". I mean, lots of windows got blown out (not a good thing when the nighttime temperatures were set to go below zero), a lot of people were injured, mostly by flying glass, and even more nerves were shattered.

There are a couple of things that interest me about this event. Well, three at least.

First, there is the coincidence of this happening on the same day as an asteroid was scheduled to pass within about 17,000 miles of earth. And, according to all the experts I've heard, it was a coincidence. People who know about trajectories and such studied the video footage of the meteor and said that the two were not traveling the same path. Adding to the coincidence, at the same time the meteorite exploded, a UN conference was being held in Vienna to discuss the creation of an asteroid early warning system.

Second, it was said that this was the biggest event of it's kind since the Tunguska event, in 1908. That was a much bigger explosion that flattened an estimated 80 million trees over an area of 830 square miles. If the event over Chelyabinsk had been that powerful, there wouldn't be a Chelyablinsk left. While the most accepted explanation for the Tunguska event is that an asteroid exploded in the air over the region, much like the smaller meteor explosion yesterday, there are still a number of theories floating around to explain Tunguska, some more plausible and serious than others. What interests me about this is that, while it looks on the map like there is quite a bit of distance between Tunguska and Chelyablinsk (in a quick search, I couldn't find the distance between the two), the two events did take place very much in the same part of the world.

Third, I am amused by the rapidity with which the conspiracy theories about yesterday's event began to propagate. Not that this is unusual in and of itself. It seems like just about every event has a few conspiracy theories to go with it. But one report I saw on claims that a voice can be heard on one of the videotapes of the event saying, just after the event that "It must have been the Chinese!" Others speculated in the Russian press that it wasn't really a meteorite that caused the blast, but a US weapons test. Others speculated that, while it was a meteor that exploded over the city, the blast was not spontaneous but instead the result of it being shot down by the Russian military. It will be interesting to see, in the coming days and weeks, what other theories will make the rounds.

I'll keep an eye out, and if anything interesting comes up, I'll pass it along.

Meanwhile, I'm about to go out the door to attend a job fair this morning. I'm not convinced of the utility of job fairs for actually finding jobs, but I'm at that point where I'm willing to give most anything a try in relation to finding actual work. We're still way above the national average for unemployment here in my county, and I don't know anyone who actually believes the official numbers. I've heard speculation that the real unemployment rate around here is closer to 20 percent that the 14 percent or so in the last numbers I heard from the government.

Wish me luck.

And keep an eye on the sky.

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