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, 110 (45), 18092-7

Earth-viewing Satellite Perspectives on the Chelyabinsk Meteor Event

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Earth-viewing Satellite Perspectives on the Chelyabinsk Meteor Event

Steven D Miller et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

Large meteors (or superbolides [Ceplecha Z, et al. (1999) Meteoroids 1998:37-54]), although rare in recorded history, give sobering testimony to civilization's inherent vulnerability. A not-so-subtle reminder came on the morning of February 15, 2013, when a large meteoroid hurtled into the Earth's atmosphere, forming a superbolide near the city of Chelyabinsnk, Russia, ∼1,500 km east of Moscow, Russia [Ivanova MA, et al. (2013) Abstracts of the 76th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, 5366]. The object exploded in the stratosphere, and the ensuing shock wave blasted the city of Chelyabinsk, damaging structures and injuring hundreds. Details of trajectory are important for determining its specific source, the likelihood of future events, and potential mitigation measures. Earth-viewing environmental satellites can assist in these assessments. Here we examine satellite observations of the Chelyabinsk superbolide debris trail, collected within minutes of its entry. Estimates of trajectory are derived from differential views of the significantly parallax-displaced [e.g., Hasler AF (1981) Bull Am Meteor Soc 52:194-212] debris trail. The 282.7 ± 2.3° azimuth of trajectory, 18.5 ± 3.8° slope to the horizontal, and 17.7 ± 0.5 km/s velocity derived from these satellites agree well with parameters inferred from the wealth of surface-based photographs and amateur videos. More importantly, the results demonstrate the general ability of Earth-viewing satellites to provide valuable insight on trajectory reconstruction in the more likely scenario of sparse or nonexistent surface observations.

Keywords: asteroids; atmospheric entry; multiangle; remote sensing; trajectory estimation.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Meteosat-9 comparison between near-infrared (A) and thermal infrared window (B) brightness temperatures for the Chelyabinsk meteor trail. Here, “warm” brightness temperatures indicated in the near-infrared imagery can be misinterpreted as a heat signature from the initial meteor fireball. In fact these brightness temperatures are enhanced by contributions from solar reflection and therefore do not represent the thermodynamic temperature of the feature (similarly warm meteorological clouds reside in to the south of the trail). In contrast, the thermal infrared window band reveals the more representative cold thermodynamic temperatures associated with the trail.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Comparison of meteor debris trail as viewed (A) from the northwest by DMSP F-16 (58.54°N, 45.65°E; 833 km) and (B) from the southwest by Meteosat-9 (0.19°N, 9.41°E; 35,786 km). The location of Chelyabinsk and the location of a meteorite fragment that left an ∼6 m hole in a frozen lake near the town of Chebarkul are also shown. Viewing parallax-effect results in dramatic displacement of the trail from its true nadir ground track; the Meteosat-9 imagery suggests a trajectory northeast to southwest trajectory crossing almost directly over Chelyabinsk, whereas the DMSP F-16 imagery suggests a trajectory from southeast to northwest and passing by south of the city. Strong upper-level west/northwesterly winds (>80 m/s; shown in Fig. S7) have begun to shear the originally straight-line meteor trail to the south by the time of the F-16 overpass (yellow arrows in A). A surface-based view of the meteor trail, looking toward the south from Chelyabinsk, is shown in the Inset. Given the photographer’s perspective, the orientation of the trail is approximately reversed from how it appears in the satellite imagery.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Evolution of Chelyabinsk meteor trail over a 3-h period (0332–0632 UTC, February 15, 2013) as observed from the MTSAT, a geostationary satellite. From the extreme southeast perspective of this geostationary satellite (situated over the equator at 140°E, viewing the Chelyabinsk region at 55.17°N, 61.40°E) the plume is observed on the Earth’s limb. The topmost portions of this plume were estimated to reside near 90 km altitude. Strong speed and directional vertical wind shear in the stratosphere and mesosphere resulted in rapid advection and distortion of the meteor trail from its original straight-line trajectory.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Comparison between uncorrected (satellite-mapped features as shown in Fig. 2) and corrected (blue) ground tracks for the Chelyabinsk meteor trail. Dashed portion of the Meteosat-9 trajectory (red) was deduced (extending beyond the limb of satellite’s field of regard) from the observed F-16 trail extent. Parallax effects displace the apparent position of the trail location away from the satellite-viewing direction, and elongate it due to the increasing height of the trail from west to east. The DMSP F-16 trail (green) is displaced mostly eastward due to the satellite’s western perspective, whereas the extreme southwestern perspective and higher viewing zenith angles of Meteosat-9 result in relatively stronger parallax shifting effects.
Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.
Satellite-derived (blue) and surface-based video (red) 3D reconstruction of the Chelyabinsk meteor trajectory showing the approximate vertical extent and incident angle (with respect to the horizontal) of the observed meteor trail. For the satellite estimates, the turret feature (Fig. 2) and trail endpoint were used as matching features between Meteosat-9 and DMSP F-16 for these calculations.

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