Wow, the Russian Meteor Was the Biggest in a Century

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At least, that's what the early data suggests.

The meteor we all saw streaking across YouTube from Russian dashboard cameras was the largest in a century, a scientist who studied the event told Nature's Geoff Brumfiel.

That would make it the biggest rock to hit the Earth since 1908's Tunguska wiped out a big old patch of Siberia.

"It was a very, very powerful event," says Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, who has studied data from two infrasound stations near the impact site. Her calculations show that the meteoroid was approximately 15 metres across when it entered the atmosphere, and put its mass at around 40 tonnes.

The infrasound stations are owned by Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, and are designed to provide independent data on weapons tests. The Russian meteor was substantially more powerful than the North Korean nuclear weapons test this month.

Brumfiel also reports that no scientist saw the meteor strike coming, which would have become visible a day or two ago. We might find out more about the meteor strike from military satellites, if the government decides to release that data.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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