A Giant Fireball Hit Earth – And No One Noticed

Video highlights from Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

It was the largest atmospheric explosion since the Chelyabinsk meteor

We might think we know when something explodes on our planet, but Earth is being hit with around 100 tonnes of “space junk” every day.

Earlier this month, the largest fireball since the massive Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean.

As it landed around 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Brazil, it went unnoticed until now.

Astronomer Phil Plait told Slate that the fireball hit with the energy equivalent of 12,000 tonnes of TNT.

“Explosions from impacts like that rival nuclear bombs," says Plait.

"Happily, they’re very rare - here we’re talking fewer than once per century, statistically speaking - but it would be nice if we knew they were coming. It’s hard to say just what we would do if we saw one, but right now, we don’t even have that option."

The Chelyabinsk fireball exploded over Russia in February 2013 with the energy force of 45,000 tonnes of TNT.

The event injured about 1,500 people and damaged thousands of buildings in a part of central Russia that is home to one million people.

About the size of a small house, the Chelyabinsk meteor was the largest known natural object to enter the Earth's atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event – widely believed to have also been a meteor – that flattened a wide swath of forest in Siberia.

Learn more about the Chelyabinsk meteor here.

A meteorite contrail is seen over Chelyabinsk
[Image: Yekaterina Pustynnikova, AP]

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