Research

A Huge Asteroid Exploded Above Earth, and You Totally Missed It

A Huge Asteroid Exploded Above Earth, and You Totally Missed It

Details of the meteoric explosion over the Bering Sea, off Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, last December, have only just begun to emerge.

The explosion was ten times as powerful as the Hiroshima atomic bomb, hitting Earth's atmosphere at 5.20 am IST (11.50 pm GMT) on 19 December over the stretch of Pacific Ocean between Russian Federation and Alaska. The Bering Sea fireball exploded 25.6 kilometres above the air having struck thicker layers of the atmosphere with its air burst power reaching 173 kilotons, which is 11 times less than "Little Boy", a 15-kiloton bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

The blast was the second-largest of its kind in a century, and the biggest since the fireball over Chelyabinsk in Russian Federation in 2013, New Scientist reported.

The massive explosion didn't receive much attention until now because it was over water, and people didn't see or feel any effect of the impact, Kelly Fast, near-Earth objects observation program manager at NASA, told BBC.

The asteroid came through the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 32km/s on December 18, on a steep trajectory of seven degrees, BBC News reported.

This artistic visualization shows a collision near the star Vega
Representational image. Image courtesy NASA

The space rock exploded with 10 times the energy released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

An asteroid expert at NASA said that the latest meteor only had 40 per cent of the energy release as that of Chelyabinsk and it exploded over the Bering Sea, which is why it didn't cause a lot of buzz.

The explosion occurred in an area close to commercial flight routes between North America and Asia, the space administration said, prompting researchers to check with airlines for reported sightings. It remained at first unnoticed by NASA, but the agency was later notified by the US Air Force about the blast.

The second-largest asteroid to hit Earth in the last 30 years went undetected, until now.

Congress has asked NASA to locate 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids that are 460 feet or larger by 2020, but researchers say this effort could take 30 years or more. Space rocks of this size are so-called "problems without passports" because they are expected to affect whole regions if they collide with Earth.

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