While we were all so busy watching the anticipated approach of asteroid 2012 DA 14, a chunk of space rock the size of a bus slipped in under the radar and broke up in a spectacular fireball over the Ural Mountains, scaring the daylights out of hundreds of unsuspecting Russians.
The meteor, which shattered windows, was captured by dozens of dashboard cameras, which are apparently necessary automobile accessories in an area where police corruption is so endemic that motorists need to have videos to help heep themselves from being prosecuted for spurious traffic violations. Within minutes of the meteor's arrival, amateur videos began popping up on YouTube. I bet Big Brother never dreamed of anything like this!
The meteor broke up about ten km above the city of Chelyabinsk, causing numerous injuries. A piece of the debris landed in a lake, bringing to mind images from half-a-dozen B-movies from the 1950's where alien space ships fall blazing through Earth's atmosphere and auger into the surface.
This space invader is the largest meteor strike since the one that plowed into Tunguska, Siberia in 1908, flattening miles of forest and mystifying generations of people, and fortunately nowhere near as big as the one that slammed into the Earth off the Yucatan Peninsula, bringing the reign of the dinosaurs to an abrupt end.
Preliminary reports indicate that the Russian meteor wasn't related to 2012 DA 14, which was about three times larger than the one that entered the atmosphere at an angle shallow enough to cause a trail that blazed brighter than the sun. The meteor kind of stole the thunder--if you'll pardon the expression--from its more sedate cousin, which swept past the Earth and continued harmlessly on its way while everybody else was chattering about the fireball in Russia. This is, of course, very fortunate, for the estimated force of the explosion from the meteor was approximately that of 20 Hiroshima nuclear bombs going off at once.
Still, 2012 DA 14 was itself remarkable, because it came close enough to pass between Earth and the swarm of geostationary satellites 22,200 miles above the planet's surface, which makes it the closest-ever predicted approach to Earth for an object of this size. The asteroid was discovered and tracked by The NASA Near Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program, which searches for and charts the paths of potentially threatening asteroids using space- and ground-based telescopes. The program is run by JPL out of Caltech in Pasadena, CA.