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A Bright Flare, and a Warning

One night about ten years ago I was walking down a quiet road on Emerald Isle, NC, the spring air spangled with stars, when a meteor flamed across the sky with such vehemence that I fully expected to hear the sound of an impact. I didn’t, of course, and on the normal scale of things, I wouldn’t be likely to. Chances are that even if the meteor did survive the fall to Earth, to become one or more of the meteorites sought by scientists as interesting chunks of the early Solar System, it landed far away and was much smaller in size than its trail seemed to imply.

Then I looked at Alan Dyer’s post on the recent meteor in Alberta, one that Dyer has illustrated with videos of the event. Taken from this week’s Carnival of Space, Dyer’s account points out that Alberta is a fine hunting ground for meteorites, but even the flat prairie can be tricky to search when you’re dealing with a momentarily visible event, a large search area and no reports of an object falling nearby. I also wondered if the average pedestrian that night wouldn’t have instinctively ducked.

The November 20 meteor over Alberta reminds us of the still unsettled state of the Solar System, and the danger that objects larger than this one might pose. Check the replay from an RCMP officer’s dashboard camera shown below, spectacular in the bright trail cutting across the sky and the fireball that follows, and imagine what might occur with an object a hundred times as large. A small near-Earth object could be far larger than the 1-10 ton meteor seen by Albertans, which is now thought to have been about as large as a chair, or maybe a desk.

Some 600 times brighter than the full Moon, it made for quite a spectacle. No wonder the local media were swamped with calls. I also notice that One Astronomer’s Noise gives a nod to a new theory of an asteroid impact that may have occurred over 2000 years ago near present-day New York City. A team from Harvard has found carbon spherules of the sort formed by extreme pressures — usually the sign of impact ejecta — in Hudson River silt. Did a 100-meter asteroid create these materials, and the tsunami whose evidence the Harvard researchers are now studying along the New Jersey and Long Island coasts? Can a crater be located?

Every major meteor sighting like the one that lit up the Albertan skies is a chance to remind the public that a prudent policy of near-Earth object detection is essential in safeguarding our future. Along with that realization comes the knowledge that a major thrust of our space program must be to develop methods of asteroid deflection in the event a serious Earth-crosser is discovered on a collision course. Some would argue that we might not need to deploy such technology for thousands of years. True enough, and I’m a gambler by nature, but this is one bet I’m not willing to take. Let’s develop the tools and sleep better at night.

Addendum: Reports from the Associated Press now say that meteorites from this event have been found near the Battle River along the rural Alberta-Saskatchewan border. And here’s a story from the Whitecourt Star on a much older crater that has now been identified in Alberta.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • David November 29, 2008, 14:01

    Yes Yes! I think we may need Geo Engineering (a sun Shade?) for Global Warming too.
    Would not such efforts -A big shade and perhaps a laser for the asteriods have some other application as well?

  • ljk December 7, 2008, 0:38
  • ljk June 11, 2009, 15:45

    Space rock yields answers about origins of life on Earth

    By Wanda Vivequin

    June 2, 2009 – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

    Formic acid, a compound implicated in the origins of life, has been found at record levels on a meteorite that fell onto a frozen Canadian lake in 2000.

    Chris Herd, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and curator of the university’s meteorite collection, presented his research findings at the 2009 American Geophysical Union joint assembly in Toronto at the end of May.

    Herd conducted his analysis on the Tagish Lake Meteorite, which he has described as being possibly the “most important rock that’s ever been found anywhere on the Earth.”

    The U of A scientist found levels of formic acid that were four times higher than had previously been recorded on a meteorite. Formic acid is one of a group of compounds dubbed “organics” because they are rich in carbon. This compound is also commonly associated with ants and bees because of its presence in their venom.

    Herd said the delivery of formic acid and other carboxylic acids to the early Earth by meteorites like the one that fell on Tagish Lake in northern British Columbia would have provided the components needed for life, especially the fatty acids that are an important part of cell walls.

    He said the ultimate source of formic acid may be interstellar space as this and related compounds have been observed astronomically in cold, molecular clouds as well as in comets.

    Full article here:


  • ljk November 24, 2010, 6:17

    A meteorite crater on Mt. Ararat?

    Authors: V.G.Gurzadyan, S.Aarseth

    (Submitted on 16 Nov 2010)

    Abstract: We briefly report on a crater on the western slope of Mt.Ararat. It is located in an area closed to foreigners at an altitude around 2100m with geographic coordinates 39\deg 47′ 30″N, 44\deg 14′ 40″E. The diameter of the crater is around 60-70m, the depth is up to 15m. The origin of the crater, either of meteorite impact or volcanic, including the evaluation of its age, will need detailed studies.

    Comments: 2 pages, 1 color image, to appear in The Observatory (February 2011)

    Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

    Cite as: arXiv:1011.3715v1 [astro-ph.EP]

    Submission history

    From: V. G. Gurzadyan [view email]

    [v1] Tue, 16 Nov 2010 14:54:17 GMT (656kb)