The Great Meteorite Processions of February 1913 and 2013

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Herschel’s Andromeda
Image Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, O. Krause, HSC, H. Linz

Explanation of the Herschel

I hope you like the above infrared image of the Andromeda Galaxy. The picture was made from the Herschel, the European Space Agency’s equivalent of our own Hubble satellite. The Herschel was put into orbit in 2009 and features very sophisticated infrared technology.

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Herschel in space, close up on its mirror, photo from ESA

The Rediscovery of an Extraordinary Century Old Astronomical Event

Recently, a great astronomical event that occurred almost a hundred years ago to the day that the Russian meteors struck, has been making the rounds of the scientific press.  Spurred on by a painting made by an amateur astronomer and art teacher in Toronto, named Gustav Hahn, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has recently published an article about the spectacular meteor shower that lit up the skies from western Canada to Bermuda and even Brazil.

This spectacular display of fireballs took place over a 24 hour period with the most numerous sightings occurring in eastern Canada. On February 9th 2013, NASA prophetically described the 100-year old event in this way: “Although nothing quite like the Great Meteor Procession of 1913 has been reported since, numerous bright fireballs — themselves pretty spectacular — have since been recorded, some even on video”.

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This painting by artist and amateur astronomer Gustav Hahn depicts the meteor procession of February 9, 1913, as observed near High Park in Toronto. Credit: University of Toronto Archives (A2008-0023), © Natalie McMinn

The Reconstructed Image

The above image is a digital scan of the original picture, which was a halftone, hand-painted image that is now part of the University of Toronto archives.

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Still image from Russian videos, picture from the BusinessInsider

Strange Coincidence

Strangely enough, the NASA story appeared on its Astronomy Picture of the Day site just six days before the meteor exploded above the Ural Mountains of Russia, causing a spectacular view that was widely recorded on video and rapidly disseminated around the world. All of this just goes to prove that sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.

 

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Strange Happenings On Planet Earth Today

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A meteor streaked through the skies above Russia’s Chelyabinsk region , photo from UniverseToday

Central Russia Hit With Meteorites

Thanks to the popularity of dashboard cams the internet is abuzz with images and video footage of the meteor(s) that exploded high in the atmosphere near the city of Chelyabinsk, which is located in the Ural Mountains of Russia. According to news reports about a 1,000 people were treated for injuries, mostly from flying glass. Fortunately, no one was killed and none of the injuries were life-threatening.  The meteor strike occurred just hours before asteroid da14 passed close to the earth’s surface.

The Official Version

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Hole in ice caused by meteorite, from CNN

NASA asteroid expert Don Yeomans, head of the agency’s Near-Earth Object Program Office, was quoted as saying that the event in Russia was not linked to the close flyby of the large asteroid that occurred later on in the same day. Yeoman’s scientific opinion was confirmed by many other scientists including Richard Binzel of MIT, Paul Chodas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, Bill Cooke of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. as well as experts at the European Space Agency.

The Crackpots

Not everybody agreed with the scientific experts, including one Russian official named Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who said the explosion was the United States testing out a new nuclear device. Although the explosion had the force much greater than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, it lacked the severe damage because the meteor blew up many miles above the surface of the earth.

The Minority Dissenters

Not everybody believed that the meteor (or meteors) that exploded in Russia were unrelated to the asteroid flyby. For there appeared to be a small cadre of scientists that believed the meteors exploding above Russia were in some way related to the large asteroid that passed by the earth much later in the same day. On CBS, Michio Kaku, a physics professor at the City University of New York, stated that asteroids often occur in swarms or “showers” and so the meteors that passed over Russia may have some connection to the larger asteroid.

Other scientists who share similar views include Tatiana Bordovitsina, an astronomy professor at Tomsk State University in western Siberia, Curtin University asteroid expert Phil Bland of Australia and Professor Ian Crawford of Birkbeck University, who said;  “if meteorites were traveling with the asteroid, they would be several hours ahead of it.”

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LL Ori and the Orion Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team

Scientific Reality

I think that this difference in viewpoints among scientists is fascinating and that ultimately the minority view that the two events are related will prevail. History is just full of too many instances where the majority scientific opinion has been proven more, for me to think otherwise. No matter how this story turns stay in touch for the debate could be very interesting and entertaining.