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Russian Meteorite Lands in Raleigh

January 23, 2014

By Helen Chappell

Almost exactly a year ago, a chunk of rock the size of a Sperm Whale came roaring into our atmosphere over Russia. It exploded fifteen miles above the Earth’s surface, creating a brilliant fireball in the dawn sky and a shockwave that shattered windows across six cities. Bits of rock from the blast, mostly the size of gravel, rained down into the snow after the explosion. The largest fragment, weighing more than a thousand pounds, landed in a nearby lake and was recovered by divers months later.

image of smoke trail from meteor

The meteor lit up the predawn sky on February 15, 2013. Photo by Alex Alishevskikh (via Flickr).

But the rocks’ journey didn’t end there. Three pieces of the meteorite have arrived in Raleigh, just in time for Astronomy Days. We’ve added them to the impressive collection already on display in our “Postcards from Space” exhibition. It took a bit of shuffling to get everything displayed properly, but we made room!

gloved hands adjusting meteorites

Moving part of the existing collection to its new home.

image of adjusting framing for new sign

I knew it! He was framed for building that new graphic!

To celebrate, here are a few weird little facts about the Chelyabinsk meteor(ite):

  • In the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, everyone who wins a gold medal on the event’s anniversary, February 15, will also receive a medal embedded with a piece of the meteorite.
  • Though the entire meteor event lasted just a few minutes, in that time the same piece of falling rock went through two name changes. In space, it was an asteroid. Once its burn-up became visible in the atmosphere, it became a meteor. When its broken-up remnants hit the ground, they became meteorites. Even more confusingly, the rock was never a meteoroid; those are bits of rocks in space smaller than asteroids but bigger than micrometeroids. Confused yet? So were we. Here’s a fun little animation that will help (just know that this is for a smaller object than the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk).
  • There’s a Church of the Chelyabinsk Meteorite. Really.
  • On the same day as the event, the astronomy world was watching a different asteroid. That object, with the catchy name 367943 Duende, passed close to Earth (closer than the orbit of some satellites!) but ultimately missed us. Weirdly, the two asteroids were completely unrelated. You can keep tabs on wayward space rocks by following NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.
  • Most of the injuries from the explosion were caused by flying glass, but a few people were actually sunburned by the meteor’s intense light.
  • The exploding meteor created a plume of dust that traveled around the Northern Hemisphere and all the way back to Chelyabinsk within four days of the event. Three months later, NASA scientists could still detect a persistent belt of dust around the planet.

Come check it out on the third floor of the Nature Research Center! The meteorite fragments, along with a commemorative medallion, will be on display for at least the next year.

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