Meteor, asteroid have more than astronomers looking up - Cincinnati News, Weather, Sports from FOX19 NOW-WXIX

Meteor, asteroid have more than astronomers looking up

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

It's a scenario you usually only see in movies: a meteor streaking toward Earth while an asteroid comes perilously close.

But those events actually happened within hours of each other Friday, and a lot of people are talking about them.

One after another, hundreds of videos appeared online, each showing a flash of light brighter than the sun and the signature streak of a meteor bound for earth.

The space rock exploded with an estimated force equal to 20 atomic bombs and injured more than 1,000 people as its booming shock wave blasted out windows in Russia.

"This is something that exploded about 30 miles up in the atmosphere, so there's no big rock that hit the ground," said Vanderbilt astronomy professor David Weintraub.

It was the most videotaped meteor in world history, but it wasn't anywhere close to the biggest, say experts.

It came into the atmosphere the size of a car and landed in pieces about the size of telephones. While no one knew it was coming, Weintraub said it wasn't that astronomers weren't looking. It's that this one really never measured up.

"Astronomers aren't tracking car-sized asteroids. We're tracking house-sized or football stadium-sized asteroids. One the size of a car would be too little to find," he said.

Later, a much bigger asteroid - this one about half the size of a football field - whizzed within 17,000 thousand miles of Earth.

That might seem far away to some. But by space standards, that's a close shave.

Astrobiologist Todd Gary said it traveled nearer to Earth than the moon and many orbiting communications satellites.

Many may now wonder what would happen if a large asteroid were heading directly toward Earth. Scientists are actually planning for that now.

"Some incredibly bright scientists are working on everything. The one thing we don't want to do is like Bruce Willis in Armageddon. We don't want to explode this giant asteroid, and get hit with its shower. What we want to do is gently nudge it off course," Gary said.

One low-cost solution that scientists have proposed, Gary said, is to paint one side of an asteroid black. Heat from the sun would then warm that side of the asteroid enough that it would affect the spin and possibly move its track away from Earth.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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