A smoke trail hovers after last year's Chelyabinsk meteorite, which injured more than a thousand people. Associated Press

NASA wants to use this project to predict Earth's next dangerous space rock.

Last February, a yacht-sized space rock ripped into the atmosphere above Russia and exploded, emitting an eardrum-wrecking shock wave that damaged more than 7,000 buildings and injured hundreds with flying glass.

For those who would prefer not to experience a sequel to the Chelyabinsk incident, is there anywhere they can seek safety from galactic bombardment?

It doesn't seem like it, to judge from this new NASA map of space debris smashing into our celestial dome. The color-coded cartography shows the global penetration of at least 556 "small asteroids" from 1994 to 2013—"small" being deceiving here, as these fiery "bolides" lie on the larger end of the meteor spectrum, often producing superbright flashes and percussive booms. What's clear is that the distribution of extra-large meteorites is random, affecting every ocean and continent (the fewer-seeming meteors around the poles is actually a result of map distortion).

NASA/NEO Program

The folks at NASA's Near-Earth Object Program say the most powerful fireball during this time period was indeed Chelyabinsk's, carrying the energy of up to 500,000 tons of TNT. They hope the data underpinning this map will reveal when the next huge meteor could crash-land, because such an earth-shaking event is coming... sometime. Writes the space agency:

"The aim is to find potentially hazardous asteroids before they find us," said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory....

Studies of Earth's history indicate that about once every 5,000 years or so on average an object the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage. Once every few million years on average an object large enough to cause regional or global disaster impacts Earth. Impact craters on Earth, the Moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences.

The hole left by part of the Chelyabinsk meteorite. (Associated Press)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  2. Design

    A New Plan to Correct a Historic Mistake in Pittsburgh

    A Bjarke Ingels Group-led plan from 2015 has given way to a more “practical” design for the Lower Hill District. Concerns over true affordable housing remain.

  3. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  4. A crowded room of residents attend a local public forum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
    Life

    Are Local Politics As Polarized As National? Depends on the Issue.

    Republican or Democrat, even if we battle over national concerns, research finds that in local politics, it seems we can all just get along—most of the time.

  5. Design

    The Woman Who Elevated Modern Poland’s Architecture

    A new exhibit displays Jadwiga Grabowska-Hawrylak’s talent, which strove beyond the postwar standards of mass-production and prefabrication in her home country.