When a meteor exploded over Russia early Friday morning, the world was suddenly reminded that we're in a universe full of fast moving objects that tend to smash into each other without warning. For billions of years, Earth has been ground zero for millions of meteors and untold numbers of asteroids that have scarred and pockmarked the planet.
Much of the water contained in our oceans arrived in the form of dirty snowballs from space. These fast moving objects make a lot of noise and do a lot of damage sometimes, but they have played an essential role in our planetary evolution. Still, we don't appreciate the fireworks that sometimes happen when a 10-ton meteor traveling at 33,000 mph like the one that exploded over the Chelyabinsk region generates a shockwave that knocks out the windows of an estimated 3,000 buildings.
There were no fatalities, but 1,100 people reported injuries from broken and flying glass and sought medical attention. Dozens required hospitalization. The meteor's quick descent over the Russian sky was captured on cell phones and dashboard cameras and sparked panic among older residents. The world didn't end, but watching a 49-foot meteor explode in the vicinity of your city and scatter pieces over nearly 20 miles was the next scariest thing for lots of Russians.
After the terror and excitement about the previously undetected meteor passed, attention turned to Asteroid 2012 DA14, which sailed safely past Earth several hours later. A mere 17,000 miles separated us from impact. Suddenly, we're reminded that we're in no position to take our planet's safety for granted.