In the first significant incident of injury and damage involving a major meteor, six cities in the Ural region of Russia were hit this morning by the concussion and fragments from a large strike.
Al Jazeera has this:
This incident will no doubt cause international attention to the issue of Near Earth Objects (NEOs. While there is no more immediate concern than there ever has been in human history, the threat is one which we can not take idly.
David Frum is compiling videos of the event on the Daily Beast.
The Earth itself was created by a process of accretion with consisted of stony objects in orbit around the sun running into each other. The water in our oceans was delivered by billions of asteroid and comet impacts. 65 million years ago the vast majority of life on earth was obliterated when a large asteroid or comet hit the Yucatan Peninsula, the Chicxulub crater.
In 1908 a meteor detonated over Tunguska, Russia, felling trees over an area of 830 square miles. A similar event over a metropolitan area would have the same effect of a 5-30 megaton nuclear weapon.
Spacegaurd is the name given to the collection of efforts currently underway to address the risk of NEO strikes on the earth. Expect the issue to get much more attention following today's event.
As of early afternoon US ET estimates of injuries are approaching 1,000. In the added video at the bottom of this page, Neil Degrasse Tyson puts this as a once-per-decade event. As population continues to grow, the odds of similar strikes causing catastrophic effects.
This object has been estimated at 10 tons, and is below the threshold of objects currently being sought and tracked. 2012 DA14, which will pass withing ~17,000 miles over Sumatra at 2:24pmET today, is by comparison ~200,000 tons. Objects the size of 2012 DA14 pass by Earth every 40 years and impact every 1,200 on average.
A longish comment below as an update here, with video of DA14 flying by later in the day following the Russian blast.
Some history of strikes, first:
Which are the only ones that count, since we are the ones who define what "damage" means.
The Dinosaur Killer didn't cause damage in any arbitrary sense. From the perspective of all modern life it was no more damaging than tilling a field for planting. Just part of the natural cycle of wiping out almost all life and allowing new life to refill the gaps.
And it was only the most recent to have that sort of impact.
Sudbury, Ontario got it's future mining laid down 1.8B years ago when it was hammered with a rock a little smaller than Manhattan, which the early photosynthetic life at the time probably didn't take kindly to.
The Permian epoch is believed to have been ended 540M years ago by a strike which killed 90% of all life. Other mass extinctions in between could have been impact related.
Smaller scale impacts have been jostling things up all along. North America was blasted 50,000 years ago in the making of "Meteor Crater" which is just off Interstate 40 in Arizona.
Right about the time that bone-diggers like fogiv suggest that my earliest American ancestors were settling in after that long trek from Asia and creating the flourishing Clovis cultures the Great Lakes region took one in the schnoz, causing no end of grief worldwide and the possible end to all that.
But we do get to define "damage" and we can prevent it. The UN Action Team-14 meeting coincided with both the Russian event as well as the DA14 flyby, and they are taking note:
"This event in Russia and the pass of the larger asteroid 2012 DA14 are good reminders that many thousands of objects like it pass near Earth daily," said Ray Williamson, a senior advisor to the Secure World Foundation and a participant in the Vienna gathering.
Secure World Foundation is a private operating foundation dedicated to the secure and sustainable use of space for the benefit of Earth and all its peoples.