Friday, February 22, 2013

Meteor mayhem

Here's an unlikely scenario ... a small asteroid (about 45 meters across) passes a mere 17,000 miles (28,000 km) from Earth.  That's close in galactic terms, but it's still, you know, 17,000 miles away.  What makes last Friday special was that a few hours before that closest approach, this happened: one of the brightest meteor strikes on Earth in the past century.

What's fun about this is that there's no reason to think the two events are related.  All accounts have the meteor coming in from the opposite direction.  Of course, folks online spent days trying to twist things around to force a connection.

Maybe that meteor was orbiting the asteroid?  No.  That tiny roid probably couldn't hold a tennis ball in orbit at a few hundred miles.

Maybe that meteor broke off from the asteroid a gazillion years ago and is part of the same stream of debris?  No.  Moving the other way?

Maybe observers got the directions wrong?  Sure, start doubting the obvious.  Each object had a very clear direction, no error about it.

Yeah, but maybe there's a conspiracy to keep us from feeling threatened?  To get here, we have to doubt the obvious, make stuff up, and fall off a diving board.  Stop it.

Two things CAN happen without there being any connection.  Heck, the other day I had two big ebay orders, one from a guy name Xiang and one named Zhang, thousands of miles apart.  Aside from finding it odd, there's no sensible point to make about it.  In this case, think about it ... it's not like space rocks check their calendars: "Is there anyone else crashing into Earth today? No?  Okay, here I come!"

We can keep making wider and wider generalizations -- but both objects came from the Solar System! -- until we end up not saying anything at all.  Just record the events, learn what we can and move on.  Tons of debris enter the Earth's atmosphere every day.  Poof, fizzle, pop.  No big deal.  Some days are just a lot more strange.