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Where Exactly Did the Russian Meteor Come From?

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Wikimedia Commons

By Chris Gayomali

It's been two weeks since a blazing meteor suddenly appeared over Russia's Ural region, and exploded seconds later over the city of Chelyabinsk. The destruction it caused is well documented: $33 million in estimated damage, 1500 injured, and zero fatalities—amazing, considering the fireball detonated with 30 times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

But where in heaven's name did the thing come from to begin with?

Poring over crowd-sourced footage, researchers Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin from the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, were able to use "simple trigonometry to calculate the height, speed, and position of the rock as it fell to Earth," says BBC NewsMore importantly, the duo was able to find out where Russia's most famous meteor was likely born.

Using astronomy software developed by the U.S. Naval Observatory, Zuluaga and Ferrin gathered enough data to trace the meteoroid's origins in outer space. The information included the meteor's relative angle to the horizon, the shadows it cast, and video timestamps of the rock's screaming descent. 

Based on its trajectory and speed—zipping through the atmosphere at an estimated rate of 13 to 19 kilometers per second—the Russian meteor appears to have originated from the Apollo family of asteroids, which are "well-known near-Earth asteroids that cross the orbit of Earth," says Discovery News:

Around 5,200 Apollo asteroids are currently known, the largest being 1866 Sisyphus — a 10 kilometer-wide monster that was discovered in 1972. Large Apollos are identified as being a significant risk to our planet, so the Chelyabinsk meteoroid acted like an Apollo warning shot. [Discovery News]

According to Popular Science, the asteroid likely "spent about 4.5 billion years cruising around the solar system before its fiery arrival in Earth's atmosphere." At an estimated 10,000 tons, it was only a little larger than your average asteroid—at least before Earth's atmosphere caused much of it to burn up.

Dr. Stephen Lowry from the University of Kent, who wasn't involved in the study, says he agrees with Zuluaga and Ferrin's analysis. "It certainly looks like it was a member of the Apollo class of asteroids," Lowry told BBC News. "Its elliptical, low inclination orbit, indicates a solar system origin, most likely from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter."

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This Organization Wants Your Old Eclipse Glasses
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Johan Ordonez, Getty Images

On Monday, August 21, America hosted what may have been the most-viewed solar eclipse in history. While those of us in the United States are still processing the awesome sight, residents of South America and Asia are just starting to look forward to the next total eclipse in 2019—and anyone who still has their protective glasses on hand can help them prepare.

According to Gizmodo, Astronomers Without Borders is accepting donations of used eyewear following Monday’s event. Any glasses they collect will be redistributed to schools across Asia and South America where children can use them to view the world’s next total eclipse in safety.

Astronomers Without Borders is dedicated to making astronomy accessible to people around the world. For this most recent eclipse, they provided 100,000 free glasses to schools, youth community centers, and children's hospitals in the U.S. If you’re willing to contribute to their next effort, hold on to your specs for now—the group plans to the announce the address where you can send them in the near future. Donors who don't have the patience to wait for updates on the group's Facebook page can send glasses immediately to its corporate sponsor, Explore Scientific, at 1010 S. 48th Street, Springdale, Arizona 72762.

Not sure if your glasses are suitable for reuse? Here’s the criteria they should meet for sun-gazing.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Stare All You Want at These Photos of the Solar Eclipse
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George Frey/Getty Images

It’s Superman’s worst nightmare: the complete disappearance of the Sun from our perch on Earth. For non-Kryptonians, it’s a rare and awesome chance to see a unique spectacle that hasn’t happened for 99 years. Multitudes gathered Monday to observe the solar eclipse, a complete obstruction of the sun’s rays by the moon in an epic galactic photo-bombing. Here’s how stargazers across the country greeted the astronomy event.

Artist Orion Fredericks created this art installation, 'Exsucitare Triectus,' for the public at the Oregon Eclipse Festival in Ochoco National Forest.
Image Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Twitter user Doug McArthur of Portland finds a novel way of avoiding direct eye contact.

Observers at Cal State Fullerton utilize a USPS-approved method for observing the eclipse safely.

That tiny little blemish isn't a bug on your screen: It's the International Space Station transiting the sun during the eclipse.

Pictured: an unidentified man and Zuul, Gatekeeper of Gozer.

The 'diamond ring' effect as seen from the Lowell Observatory in Madras, Oregon.
Image Credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Another novel way to avoid retina damage while enjoying the spectacle.

Through a portal in Kansas City, Kansas.

Boston gets its view of the celestial sensation.

The safest way to be in awe.

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