“This is in no way indicating the end of the world,” said Eric Smith, astronomy instructor at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta. “It’s a random one-off event.”
That said, Smith said the event was quite surprising.
Experts say smaller meteorites hit the earth five to 10 times a year, but strikes the size of the one over the Ural Mountains only happen between every five and 10 years.
“Meteorites fall all the time on earth, but most of them are very, very small,” said Nikolaos Kidonakis, associate professor of physics at Kennesaw State University.
And, usually, those hit uninhabited areas.
“For as spread out as we are today, the unpopulated areas are still more than the populated areas,” Smith said. “Just by sheer numbers, you’re more likely to get a hit in an unpopulated area than a populated area.”
The strike reminded Smith of another impact in Russia. In 1908, a comet exploded over Siberia that caused the largest recorded impact in history. Though the “Tunguska event” was much larger, it didn’t injure anyone.
Making Friday’s event more unusual was that the meteorite struck on the same day that an asteroid passed within 17,150 miles of earth, the closest known flyby of a rock that size.
“I don’t know if it is just a coincidence or if a piece (of the asteroid) got broken off, or maybe the asteroid was tailing some smaller rocks,” Smith said.
But Kidonakis said the two aren’t necessarily related.
“Meteorites are very common,” he said. “Asteroids coming by the earth is more rare.”
European Space Agency spokesman Bernhard Von Weyhe said Asteroid 2012DA14 is unrelated to the meteorite strike in Russia.
Meteorites have even struck in north Georgia. A 10-ounce meteorite that tore a hole in the roof of a home in Cartersville in 2009 is now on display at the Tellus Science Museum there. It was the 25th found in the state.
Michael Peck with the U.S. Geological Survey’s office in Atlanta said other meteorites were formerly on display at the state Capitol, but have been moved to Tellus.
Alan Harris, a senior scientist at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, said most of the damage in Russia on Friday would have been caused by the explosion of the meteor as it broke up in the atmosphere. The explosion caused a shockwave that sent windows and loose objects flying through the air in a radius of several kilometers. By the time the remaining fragments hit the ground, they would have been too small to cause significant damage far from the site of impact, he said.
Von Weyhe said experts from Europe, the United States and Russia are already discussing how to spot potential threats sooner and avert them, particularly in case there is danger of a meteorite hitting a major city. But don’t expect a Hollywood style mission to fly a nuclear bomb into space and blow up the asteroid.
“It’s a global challenge and we need to find a solution together,” he said. “But one thing’s for sure, the Bruce Willis ‘Armageddon’ method won’t work.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this story