In December, military satellites observed a meteor blast over the Bering Sea that reportedly exploded with 10 times more energy than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The meteor fell through the atmosphere on December 18 around noon at about 71,000 miles per hour, BBC News reported.
After Air Force satellites discovered light from the fireball, they alerted NASA, which estimated that the meteor was several feet wide and exploded about 15 miles above the surface of the ocean. Scientists revealed that the blast released energy equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT. An explosion that size is expected only two or three times every hundred years, Lindley Johnson, a NASA planetary defense officer, told BBC News.
Kelly Fast, near-earth objects observations program manager at NASA, told BBC News that we are lucky that the explosion occurred over water.
“That’s another thing we have in our defense, there’s plenty of water on the planet.”
Because the explosion did take place over the sea and people were not around to record it, the event simply didn’t make the news, according to Fast.
Johnson said the meteor entered the atmosphere near routes commercial planes use when flying between North America and Asia, so airlines are being asked if any passengers reported a sighting.
However, satellites captured the fireball, which appeared as a small orange dot over the vast sea.
Some colour views of the #meteor that flew over the North Pacific in December 2018, taken by Japan's #Himawari satellite.
The meteor is really clear here – bright orange fireball against the blue + white background!
— Simon Proud (@simon_sat) March 18, 2019
This isn’t the first time Russia has experienced a close call with a meteor. On February 15, 2013, a meteor injured more than 1,000 people and did considerable damaged when it exploded over Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast.
BBC News reported that the meteor landing in the Bering Sea without detection or warning is a reminder that agencies need to work on improving monitoring systems on earth and in space.
NASA and JPL are working on a mission concept that would help scientists discover and characterize asteroids that are larger than 400 feet wide. It involves placing a large telescope in space that would help identify such objects. Amy Mainzer, chief scientist on NeoCam at JPL, said the idea is to identify 90 percent of near-earth asteroids so there won’t be any surprises like the one over the Bering Sea.
Once an asteroid is detected, NASA can calculate where on earth it may hit. The organization has experienced success in the past gauging where an asteroid will strike.
The Center for Near Earth Object Studies records data specifically to help detect close approaches and impact risks of space objects near earth.