On the morning of June 30, 1908 in a remote area of Siberia a great glow was seen in the sky. Shortly thereafter, a dull explosion was heard up to a thousand kilometers away. Some wagons of the Trans-Siberian, 600 km away, went off the tracks due to the shock wave. Only in 1927 the point of the alleged impact was reached: no crater was ever found, but an area of over 2 thousand square kilometers was found completely devastated and about 70 million trees fell to the ground like sticks hit by the shock wave . The zone of destruction is located on the same latitude as St. Petersburg. If the object (perhaps a comet or a piece of it, but it was probably a meteoroid about 60 meters in diameter that exploded at a height of 10 kilometers) had fallen a few hours later, it would have destroyed the Russian metropolis (and half of Europe). A similar but much smaller object caused a large explosion in Siberia in February 2013.
Now in a very remote area of Antarctica, in the Sør Rondane range in the Land of Queen Maud, a group of scientists has found something similar that occurred 430,000 years ago. Again, no crater has been found, but in the meantime studies have uncovered the reason: rocky (non-metallic) celestial bodies smaller than 100-150 meters entering the atmosphere at a speed of 20 kilometers per second (72 thousand kilometers per hour) with an impact angle between 15 and 90 degrees completely shatter before touching the ground and vaporize in the layers of the upper atmosphere. Only a few fragments arrive on the ground.
The affected area
And the data
However, they still produce enormous damage because they possess enormous energy that heats the air up to 30,000 degrees and creates the shock wave. This, together with the jet of steam generated, can produce extensive devastation. This is what happened at the South Pole 430 thousand years ago: the heat, the jet of steam and the shock wave of a celestial body about 100 meters in diameter melted the ice, generating a plume that reached in 3-4 minutes the 400 kilometers of height that fell to the ground in a radius of thousands of kilometers bringing to the ground also microspheres of rocky material, found in various parts of Antarctica. Also at the Italian-French base of Concordia, 2,700 kilometers away.
The study ends with a warning: such an episode is not able to wipe out human civilization, as it did for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, but if it happened on a populated territory there would be millions of victims and incalculable damage in a radius of several hundred kilometers. How likely is that? Estimates say that an object with a mass of 1 billion tons (roughly a rock ball 100 meters in diameter) can fall to Earth every 100,000 years.
April 1, 2021 (change April 1, 2021 | 17:34)
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