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You can’t predict meteor’s behaviour, says T&T expert
Could T&T be struck by a meteor? There was shock and bewilderment around the world yesterday after reports that a meteor had hurtled through the sky early yesterday morning before exploding over Russia’s Ural Mountains and injuring hundreds of people. Published reports and video footage show a ball of fire streaking through the morning skies, leaving a trail of light behind it.
A BBC report said the spectacle was followed by loud banging noises and a shockwave that shattered windows and rocked buildings. While reports state the majority of injuries were caused by flying shards of glass, the number of injured people is still not certain, with reported numbers ranging from 500 to over 1,000.
The T&T Guardian spoke to local astronomer and senior lecturer at UWI St Augustine, Dr Shirin Haque. Haque explained that a meteor or meteoroid is typically “the dusty trail of a comet that has passed.” “Once our earth, in its orbit, crosses the dusty trail,” she said, “the particles enter our atmosphere and that is what is known as meteors.”
She said most meteors burn up in the atmosphere and never actually strike the ground. From all accounts of the occurrence in Russia yesterday, she said, it appeared to be a sizeable meteor that entered the atmosphere and exploded some 40 kilometres above the ground in the Chelyabinsk region.
Haque said the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) monitors the sky routinely for the presence of near-earth objects, such as meteoroids or asteroids. (NASA defines an asteroid as a rocky, airless world that orbits the sun but is too small to be called a planet.)
She said meteoroids are far smaller than asteroids and this was why the most recent meteor went undetected. Such meteor strikes are uncommon, said Haque, but when they do occur, the explosion usually takes place in the ocean or over a desert. In Russia, however, the explosion took place over a populated area, causing injury as well as destruction to parts of buildings.
Haque said T&T has never seen a meteor strike of this magnitude, adding: “We continue to be blessed.” Asked whether there is an international warning system in place for meteor explosions, Haque said a meteor shower could be detected from long in advance and it was possible to determine exactly where in the sky it would appear.
“While one can predict in general, you cannot necessarily predict the unique case of one meteor and its behaviour,” she said. Haque said a meteor shower is expected to have between 100 and 150 meteors an hour. “Locally, stargazers do come out in numbers to observe the predicted meteor showers and I do get reports of an occasional fireball having been seen.”
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