Monday, December 22, 2014

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Two Spectacular Events in One Day for Scientists Watching the Skies

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Rochester: Two Spectacular Events in One Day for Scientists Watching the Skies
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Friday was an exciting day for scientists around the world. That's because of two encounters; one which had been known about for months, and another far less expected.

"The Russian meteor videos were very impressive. Looks like it was as bright as the sun," said Steve Fentress, director of the Strasenburgh Planetarium.

A light show captured hundred, if not thousands of times over.

"The videos are great."

To those in the science world.

"It's a first."

It's been a fascinating 24 hours for scientists. First, with a meteorite which exploded over Russia.

"So these rare celestial events are going to get caught and photographed much more often than ever before and we're going to see more of them," said Fentress.

"You can see the sky light up and the people waiting around, and after a while this shock wave arrives," said University of Rochester assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy Eric Mamajek.

Mamajek says the video and physical evidence left behind is important.

"You can think of it as a crime scene or forensic scene and people are going to be studying it for a long time," he said. "People will be studying this for a long time in terms of trying to understand what the potential impacts are from similar size events that occur near populated areas."

As if a meteor strike wasn't enough...

"I don't think we've ever had two events like that hit us on the same day," Fentress said.

At The Strassenberg Planetarium, Fentress was among those keeping his eye on the path of an asteroid.

"Asteroids like this... this is a fairly rare one. They come this close every few months or years."

The asteroid passed an estimated 17,00 miles from earth, although we couldn't see it from this side of the planet, and it had nothing to do with overcast skies.

The 150-foot space rock passed by the other side of the plant, meaning there was no view possible from Rochester.

"At the time it's closest to us, we... represented by the paper person, will be turned around on the other side, so it won't be in our sky when it is the closest."

Two spectacular events in one day. And no connection between the two.

"It's a bizarre coincidence. As soon as I heard of the first event, I thought maybe this is related to the asteroid. But now it's clear, the trajectories were totally different," Mamajek said.

"The asteroid is going in this direction, from south to north, and the videos from Russia show the meteor going from north to south," said Fentress.

Researchers at the U of R and around the world are already studying both events, hoping to gain a better sense of tracking, and predicting future ones.

"It will be hard to tell whether there are actually more of them happening, there's just going to be a lot more photography of them and that's going to make them more interesting to learn about," Fentress aid. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP