A Huge Meteor Hit Earth and You Probably Didn’t Even Hear About It

February 29, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Leonid meteor shower
Photo credit: Ed Sweeney/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

It exploded with the force of 13,000 tons of TNT.

In February 2013, a meteor caused by a near earth asteroid lit up the skies over Russia. You probably heard about the Chelyabinsk meteor because it was all over the news. What you may or may not have heard about it the meteor impact over the South Atlantic Ocean on that occurred last February 6. It was the biggest since the Chelyabinsk meteor, so why was it barely in the news?

That’s an interesting question. The US military took notice of the event, possibly through satellites, seismic monitors or atmospheric microphones, and alerted NASA but didn’t make a big deal about it. For one, it didn’t happen over a populated region and there were no eyewitness reports. Meteor impacts are also not particularly rare. “Every single day Earth is peppered with around 100 tons of space debris,” says Discovery news. Mostly, they burn up in the atmosphere, but sometimes the meteoroids are bit enough that pieces make it through.

SEE ALSO: 11 Astronomical Events You Won’t Want to Miss in 2016

A quick reminder about terminology: Space rocks are called meteoroids while in space, meteors while passing through the atmosphere, and meteorites when they reach Earth’s surface.

In this case, the original chunk of space rock was approximately 16-23 feet (5-7 meters) wide and “unleashed an energy equivalent of 13,000 tons of TNT exploding instantaneously,” according to Discovery News.

Some news outlets took their concern further than others:

"Space agency fails to warn the world about massive blast, even though it's the largest atmospheric explosion since the Chelyabinsk meteor," reported Mirror.co.uk.

"NASA asteroid watch: Truck-sized meteor smashes to Earth with force of Hiroshima atomic bomb,” reported the International Business Times.

Do we really need to be that concerned? No, probably not. Nobody was ever in danger in this case. Even if it hadn’t happened over the ocean, there wouldn’t have been too much to concern ourselves about: “Had it happened over a populated area it, would’ve rattled some windows and probably terrified a lot of people, but I don’t think it would’ve done any real damage,” Slate reassured.

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