Software Helps Analyze Damage Caused By Chelyabinsk Meteor
March 8, 2013

High-Tech Software Helps Assess Damage From Chelyabinsk Meteor

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

On Friday, February 15, a massive meteor exploded in the sky over Russia's Ural Mountains region, injuring more than 1,500 people and at least 200 children. Now, a lecturer in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southampton has released the results of a simulation of the Chelyabinsk meteor using high-tech software called NEOImpactor.

Professor of engineering and environment Dr. Hugh Lewis was able to use the simulation tool to estimate the size, speed and path of the meteor as well as determine the flight path of the meteor up to the point where it disintegrated above Chelyabinsk.

NEOImpactor, developed by University of Southampton researchers, is a software package that models asteroid impacts and assess the potential consequences for human beings and their economy. The software helped provide an estimate of the number of people affected by the shockwave and the cost of the damage to the buildings in the region.

"The results show that a few thousand people in the Chelyabinsk region could have been affected by the blastwave with damage to the surrounding area costing about 100 million dollars, which fits with what happened," Lewis said. "The number of people living in this part of Russia is quite low, except for those in a few towns and cities such as Chelyabinsk. So, even a small change in the path of the meteor would likely have resulted in fewer casualties."

Dr. Lewis said if the meteor had arrived on the same trajectory a few hours later, then the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK would have been in its path because it is at the same latitude as Chelyabinsk.

During roughly the same time the Chelyabinsk meteor was striking Earth, asteroid 2012 DA14 was also passing by just around 17,000 miles away. At first, reports blamed the meteor on 2012 DA14, saying it was a chunk that had broken off the asteroid years before. However, an extensive analysis revealed this was not the case.

Although 2012 DA14 flew safely overhead the night of the Chelyabinsk meteor crash, Lewis analyzed what would have happened if the large 130-foot asteroid had struck Earth instead. According to the NEOImpactor, 2012 DA14 would've affected nearly 10,000 people, on average, if it impacted anywhere in the world.

“NEOImpactor, and similar tools being developed at the University, can help to support the planning of mitigation measures,” Lewis said, “as they provide important context that can shape decisions.”

He added that although the potential for a large asteroid striking Earth again is high, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future as scientists figure out how to deal with these potentially hazardous asteroids.

Engineers at Iowa State are currently working on a plan to try and save Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids. They have come up with an idea to send a satellite equipped with a nuclear bomb into space at a speed of 6.2 miles per second to slam into any hazardous asteroids, creating a crater and igniting the bomb within it. According to their calculations, this would bring less than 0.1 percent of the chunks left over from the explosion back into Earth's atmosphere.