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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 16:51 EDT

Spanish Team Says Russian Meteorite Originated From Apollo Asteroid Group

February 26, 2013
Image Credit: krasowit / Shutterstock

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

The Chelyabinsk meteorite that exploded over Russia´s Ural Mountains region on Friday, February 15, has had its origins mapped by scientists. Initially, albeit wrongfully, some attributed the meteoric event to that of another celestial event that occurred on the same day: the close Earth flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14.

After looking at amateur video footage, a group of researchers from Colombia were able to plot out the meteor´s trajectory through Earth´s atmosphere. Through this, they were then able to make an accurate reconstruction of the object´s orbit around the Sun.

Details of the work have been published on Cornell University´s Arxiv website.

Because we live in a technical age, numerous videos caught the early-morning meteor´s spectacular trail across the Russian sky. Videos from camera phones, CCTV, dashboard cams and traffic cams lit up the web in the hours and days following the event, giving researchers a pretty accurate time and date stamp to build their work around.

The earliest estimate, which came from the Russian Academy of Sciences [RAS], placed the meteor at around 10 metric tons; NASA later upped that estimate to between 7,000 and 10,000 metric tons.

Using the scores of video footage, along with the impact location, Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin, researchers based at University of Medellin, were able to use simple trigonometry to calculate the height, speed and position of the meteor as it fell upon the Earth.

To accurately recreate the rock´s original orbit around the Sun, they used six different properties of its trajectory through the atmosphere. Most of the trajectories were related to the point at which the meteor became bright enough to cast a noticeable shadow as seen in several of the videos.

Using astronomy software developed by the US Naval Observatory, Zuluaga and Ferrin added in their figures to come up with a clear picture where the meteor hailed from.

The results suggest it belongs to a well-known family of celestial rocks — the Apollo asteroids — that cross Earth´s orbit periodically. The Chelyabinsk meteor was on an elliptical orbit around the Sun before it met up with Earth on Friday, Feb. 15, according to the researchers.

More than half of the nearly 10,000 asteroids that have been discovered are thought to hail from the Apollos. The Apollos are just one of a handful of asteroid groups that are divided up based on the type of orbit they share.

“It certainly looks like it was a member of the Apollo class of asteroids,” Dr. Stephen Lowry, from the University of Kent, told BBC News. “Its elliptical, low inclination orbit, indicates a solar system origin, most likely from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.”

Dr. Lowry added with more information, further research may be able to “determine roughly where in the asteroid belt it came from.”


Source: Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online