A giant meteor, the largest since the frightening Chelyabinsk bolide, impacted the Earth on February 6 off the coast of Brazil. But nobody noticed or knew about it until NASA’s Near Earth Object Program reported it. How did that happen?
Forbes reported February 24 that a meteor measuring roughly five to seven meters (16.4 to 23 feet) in diameter, detonating with the force of 13,000 tons of TNT. The space rock was quite a bit smaller than the Chelyabinsk meteor but still the largest to be detected since the massive meteor detonated over Russia in 2013, causing extensive superficial damage to hundreds of buildings and injuring about 1,500 people. The February 6 space rock came apart some 30 kilometers above the Atlantic and about a thousand kilometers off the Brazilian coast and went unnoticed until the NASA “Fireball and Bolide Reports” revealed its impact.
The space agency tracks about 30 meteor impacts each year. However, most are not noticed due to vast areas of the Earth being uninhabited or covered with water (the latter accounting for roughly 70 percent of the Earth’s surface). The chances of a meteor hitting a highly populated area like Chelyabinsk are exceedingly low.
So, if NASA and other agencies track asteroids and space junk constantly, how is it that such a large meteor made it through without detection? According to experts, it happens all the time.
“For sporadic fireball meteor events like this one, there is no warning sign,” Mike Hankey, American Meteor Society operations manager, told The Christian Science Monitor. “They happen too quickly. In the case of this meteor, since it happened during the day, it was traveling away from the sun, which would make it impossible to detect with telescopes.”
The Chelyabinsk meteor came from the direction of the sun as well. Streaking across the Russian sky, it detonated at a force of about 500,000 tons of TNT (as compared to the recent meteor’s explosive force of 13,000 tons of TNT). Unlike the early February meteor impact over the Atlantic, that aerial phenomenon was captured by numerous surveillance and dashboard cameras.