The fall of the Chelyabinsk meteorite on February 15, 2013 was an unexpected event. The space object, whose mass was approximately 10,000 tons, caused a lot of damage and left behind many casualties – but things could have been much worse if it had not exploded in mid-air.
The fact is that the weight of the fragments collected after the fall did not exceed several thousand tons: this means that most of the meteorite burned up in the planet’s atmosphere. This often happens with small meteorites. Their kinetic energy is converted into heat due to friction with the air, resulting in combustion to ashes. However, the Chelyabinsk meteorite was much larger, and until recently scientists did not fully understand why it lost more than two-thirds of its mass.
A team of specialists from Purdue University in the USA found that the Earth’s atmosphere acts as a natural shield. A falling meteorite is affected by the force of air, and when it enters the planet’s gravitational zone, space objects often cannot withstand the pressure. Because of this, they do not burn, but break into small fragments.
In other words, the atmosphere is a much more reliable shield from meteorites than we previously thought. Perhaps it was thanks to her that 13,000 years ago, humanity did not suffer another catastrophe, when a giant comet exploded over Syria.