Amateur sleuth, scientists team up to reconstruct path of Russian meteor
In this photo provided by Chelyabinsk.ru a meteorite contrail is seen over Chelyabinsk on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. A meteor streaked across the sky of Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and reportedly injuring around 100 people, including many hurt by broken glass. (AP Photo/Chelyabinsk.ru)
Published Tuesday, February 26, 2013 11:32AM EST
The amateur videographers that captured the fiery meteor streaking across the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia earlier this month have can now be credited for more than their viral videos. The footage has been used in a scientific study that's determined where the unexpected object likely came from.
The path to discovering the meteor's probable origins traces back to the work of blogger Stefan Geens. In a blog published since the meteor streaked across the Ural Mountains on Feb. 15, Geens explains how he applied some basic math and simple geometry to footage from a static webcam in Chelyabinsk's Revolutionary Square to determine the space rock’s path through Earth's atmosphere.
But, Geens warns in the OgleEarth.com post detailing his calculations: "I am not a trained scientist."
That's where a pair of astronomers at the Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia come in.
Building on Geens' determination of the meteor's path, they set about calculating its approximate trajectory by combining what they knew of the steady image from Revolutionary Square with another video from a webcam in the town of Korkin. That footage shows the meteor at its peak brightness before exploding almost exactly overhead.
By using what they knew of the two locations, they were able to determine the streaking meteor's approximate speed. They then used that information to calculate dozens of potential orbital paths which they eventually narrowed down to one.
In their paper, published on the open source journal arXiv for peer review, Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin write, "the Chelyabinsk meteoroid belonged inequivocally to the Apollo family of Asteroids."
While they concede a large number of assumptions in their work -- ranging from the variations in webcam timestamps, as well as "the qualitative nature of the observational evidence in the second vantage point," -- the astronomers say their's "is the most rigorous reconstruction based solely in the evidence gathered in situ by amateur and public cameras."
Apollo class asteroids is the name given to a collection of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) that have orbits intersecting with Earth's.
Of the estimated 9,700 NEAs identified to date, approximately half belong to the Apollo group.