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Russia

Russians Say Billion-Dollar Telescopes Needed To Warn Of Next Meteorites

Screenshot of a dashboard cam video of the Feb. 15, 2013 meteor shower in Russia
Screenshot of a dashboard cam video of the Feb. 15, 2013 meteor shower in Russia
Anastasia Strelkovskaya

MOSCOW - After the meteorite shower and the damage it caused last Friday, Russian scientists say the threat from the sky is serious -- and something must be done.

Scientists recommended that the threat could be minimized by creating a network of modern telescopes, at a cost of around two billion dollars. These experts suggested the funds should be diverted from other areas of the national budget, most notably from the army and the space exploration budget, in an effort to develop a national defense against extra-terrestrial rocks.

Friday’s meteorite shower, which caused minor injuries to more than 1000 residents and substantial property damage, was not Russia’s first brush with meteorites. In 1908 a meteorite exploded over Siberia with around 1,000 times the power of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The explosion, which is referred to as the Tunguska Event, knocked down around 80 million trees in an 830 square mile area. Thanks to the area’s remoteness, no one was injured, but the blast could have easily wiped out a major metropolitan area. In 1947, another meteorite exploded in the Russian far east, again with no fatalities.

According Lidiya Ryicklova, a department head at the Institute of Astronomy, Russia needs to create a network of telescopes to prevent meteorite impacts in the future. “We had a lot of telescopes in the Soviet Union. And it’s not only about the telescope’s diameter – we have a very large one, but it only has a very narrow field of vision. We need a powerful telescope with a wider field of vision. We had a lot of good telescopes in the Soviet Union, but they were set in places that had the best view of the Cosmos – the mountains in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. And now we don’t have anything. The smaller the cosmic body, the more likely they are to fall to the earth,” Ryicklova explained.

Threats from above

RosKosmos, the Russian NASA equivalent, has already green-lighted a meteor-shield program. According to Konstantin Tsyibko, a Senator from Chelyabinskii Region – where Friday’s meteorite shower caused property damage – the country needs to reorient its budget away from the military and from space exploration to address the threats from the Cosmos.

"I think that people are hoping that if you can develop an Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield to protect the country during a war, then there is both a technical and financial ability to create something that will prevent meteors, it’s just a matter of reorienting our priorities. And that will probably be possible. And the scientists say that, theoretically at least, we have everything we need to build that protection system. The important issue is that the military project has always been considered the most important. It turns out that inter-governmental problems are not the only source of danger,” Tsyibko explained.

Many people still haven’t wrapped their heads around the meteorite shower on Friday. But according to Aleksander Bagrov, a researcher at the Astronomy Institute, it was a wake-up call about the importance of taking the threats from asteroid and meteors seriously. Bagrov also underlined that the events on Friday were very similar in many ways, if not in scale, to the extremely powerful and destructive Tunguska event.

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