Turns Out We Have Trouble Measuring The Meteorites

Articles in recent issues of Science and Nature add a new wrinkle for me in the matter of near-Earth objects (NEOs).  The articles focus on the meteorite impact in Russia in February of this year.  The latest research indicates that the risk posed by similar objects hitting the Earth is about 10 times larger than previously thought.  Before you dismiss this increased risk as no big deal, do remember that the February impact was in a relatively unpopulated part of Russia.  Had it happened in a city, we would still be dealing with the consequences.

The latest calculations place the object at 12-13 thousand metric tonnes – nearly twice as large as initial estimates.  These calculations were informed by the hundreds of videos taken by area citizens, and likely made it easier to do them as quickly as they have.

What is becoming more difficult is finding objects of similar size to this meteor.  Part (paywall) of the research around this impact demonstrated that there is are more objects between 10-50 meters in diameter (the same size as the 1908 impact in Tunguska) than previously anticipated.  And the object that crashed in Russia came from an area of the sky that is effectively a blind spot for objects of that size.

The short of it – we have more reasons to spend more than the pittance we have been investing in NEO detection.  But I’m at least as pessimistic as I was in February about shifting the conversation around these objects toward increasing those investments.