Was Russian Meteor DA-14 Outrider?

A couple of days back, 15 Feb 2013, Asteroid 2012 DA-14 passed – as predicted weeks earlier – very close (inside geostationary satellite orbit) to the Earth. But the strange thing about that day was that, on the very same day, a very large meteorite came down over Chelyabinsk in Russia, releasing (according to NASA) energy equivalent to 30 Hiroshima bombs, shattering windows over a wide area, and injuring 700 people.

Also on that day there were multiple reports of a fireball over San Francisco.

NASA scientists were quick to deny any connection between the events:

“According to NASA scientists, the trajectory of the Russia meteor was significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14, making it a completely unrelated object. Information is still being collected about the Russia meteor and analysis is preliminary at this point. In videos of the meteor, it is seen to pass from left to right in front of the rising sun, which means it was traveling from north to south. Asteroid DA14’s trajectory is in the opposite direction, from south to north.”

Yet it seems the NASA scientists were wrong about the trajectory of the Chelyabinsk meteor, because the comet impact was caught by satellite cameras, which show that rather than travelling from north to south, it was travelling from east to west, as can be seen in the satellite photo below (left) superimposed on the map of the region, with a prominent kink in the southern border arrowed in both.

chelyabinsk-meteorThe meteor passed over Chelyabinsk at about 9:30 am local time (3:30 am GMT) on 15 Feb, and was thought to have come down near Chebarkul Lake to the west of Chelyabinsk.

The closest approach of asteroid 2012 DA-14 came at around 19:30 GMT, or about 16 hours later. It came in towards the Earth’s south pole. NASA has an asteroid’s-eye-view animation of the approach, which first shows the snowy south pole coming into view (below left) with Australia above it. A little later later the asteroid is over the southern Indian ocean (below centre), and at closest approach it’s over Indonesia (below right) and moving north.


I’ve marked the position of Chelyabinsk northeast of the Caspian Sea. The Earth is of course rotating west to east, and so everything including Chelyabinsk is moving to the right. San Francisco is on the far side of the Earth, and due to rotate into view in several hours time to about where Chelyabinsk is shown. It seems entirely plausible that, if Asteroid 2012 DA-14 had been 16,000 km or more nearer to the Earth, instead of passing high over Indonesia as it travelled north, it could have grazed the atmosphere and landed in Russia, approaching from the east.

Another way of putting this is to imagine that DA-14 was part of a long train of asteroid fragments stretched out along its orbital path, with outriders thousands of miles ahead, and stragglers thousands of miles behind.

If this seems implausible, it should be remembered that when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck Jupiter in 1994, it consisted of a long (1.1 million km) train of comet fragments.


It was suggested that this unusual formation was a result of Shoemaker-Levy 9 having broken up after an earlier close approach to Jupiter. Perhaps something similar might have happened to Asteroid 2012 DA-14, converting it into a train of smaller asteroid fragments, most of them invisible, tens of thousands of kilometres in length.

If so, the Chelyabinsk meteor could have been one of the outriders ahead of DA-14, and the San Francisco fireball later that night, after DA-14 had passed by, could have been one of several other fragments trailing behind DA-14.

If there’s any truth in this, then whenever some large asteroid or comet is predicted to just miss the Earth, it’s quite likely to have numerous smaller (and invisible) rocks preceding it, and others trailing behind, and the period of danger runs from a day or two before closest approach to a day or two after.

In the past I’ve used NASA’s Horizons web interface to get hold of the orbital vectors (x,y,z locations, and vx,vy,vz velocities) of planets to construct an solar system simulation model. If DA-14’s vectors were available, I would have been able to simulate its approach. And I would have also been able to simulate the behaviour of a preceding and following train of fragments. Unfortunately, the vectors don’t seem to be available.

P.S. JPL (2012 DA14) Java orbit simulation.

P.P.S. The orbital vectors of Asteroid (2012 DA14) are available!

About Frank Davis

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25 Responses to Was Russian Meteor DA-14 Outrider?

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    To bad it didnt hit WASHINGTON D.C.!

  2. legiron says:

    There’s also the possibility that, since the rock flew inside satellite orbits, it could have knocked some space junk out of orbit. Some of our own lumps of crap could also be on the way down.

  3. Marvin says:

    After watching the videos on YouTube, it must have been some scary shit.
    Especially if you were at home or at work and didn’t see it coming.
    It must have seemed like a nuclear attack.
    A brilliant light in the sky (an air burst) followed by a shock wave that blows your windows and doors in. It’s a good job it didn’t happen during the cold war, America might have got one back!!!

  4. NASA = Never A Straight Answer…..

  5. c777 says:

    The dark ages, why they could have been, well actually dark!


    This year we have a comet at the end of March which will be visible as a star, then in November we may witness the passing of a great comet which could be as spectacular as this one,the great comet of 1680, Kirch.


    Now there is a theory that the sun has a cold, smaller, say a Brown dwarf companion, most stars are binary stars so the chances of our sun having a cold smaller body in a long orbit is quite likely.
    So what is the cycle of that orbit?
    Lets hope its not 1500 years or so eh?
    And how would it affect the ORT cloud as it approaches on its minor axis of orbit.
    Now a lot of fireballs have been captured on media in the last few years, is that because everyone has a camera or because there are more inbound asteroids and comets from the ORT cloud?

    • beobrigitte says:

      Now a lot of fireballs have been captured on media in the last few years, is that because everyone has a camera or because there are more inbound asteroids and comets from the ORT cloud?

      My guess is that it is a mixture of both.

      I do remember watching the Schuhmacher-Levy comet fragments through quite a good telescope as well as Halley’s comet. (Pity I didn’t have a camera then) If we look at all planets/Moons (there is plenty of footage about, from e.g. Voyager, sent out into space in the 1970s) we find that there are a lot of meteor impact craters. Why should this little planet be spared? We all know that there is a rather large meteor which has Earth’s name on it.
      NASA’s funding has been cut, (Perhaps this was even necessary in order to sort the mess it became) and there is even a European space agency. Pity they do not see the funding and publicity that the “life-saving-smoking-ban” fanatics get.
      That reminds me; according to recent measurements the supervolcano in Yellowstone Park is back on track for eruption and with that the next ice age for all of us is on the way. Global Warming does not sound half as bad………

  6. Margo says:

    I’ve heard that other fireballs were also seen – one over Cuba. Anyone verify this?

  7. Rose says:

    Was Russian Meteor DA-14 Outrider?

    It never occurred to me that it was anything else.

  8. c777 says:

    Update on Staffs.
    Labour Government ignored MP requests for public inquiry into deaths.


    I think Burnham was too busy demonising and harrasing smokers to bother.
    He ain’t walking away from this one though.

    I hate him, you may have noticed.

  9. harleyrider1978 says:

    EU Lawmakers Threaten to Veto Tightened Budget

    The leaders of the European Parliament are threatening to veto the bloc’s multi-annual budget because of its deep cuts.

    The Christian Democratic EPP, the largest group in the legislature, said the 7-year budget worth €960 billion ($1.28 trillion) must be revised to realistically reflect the EU’s growing competences and responsibilities.

    Socialist leader Hannes Swoboda called the budget — which needs parliament’s approval — unacceptable and said there won’t be a majority for the proposed plan.

    The EU’s 27 member states earlier this month agreed on a budget deal that foresees the first cuts in the bloc’s history for the years 2014-2020.

    EU President Herman Van Rompuy defended the plan as shifting funds toward growth-friendly investment while recognizing the need to tighten belts currently felt across Europe.

  10. garyk30 says:

    As I understand it, early reports had the Russian govt claiming this event was an American militery device that had been broken up by anti-missile defenses.

    Marvin’s concerns are not off base.

  11. I’ve wondered this, but have been satisfied by various astronomers saying there was no connection.
    Your link to satellite photo links to an article I’ve seen that doesn’t include a satellite photo, do you have a link to the source?

    Thanks for the blog post.

  12. I’ve found a source for the satellite image.

    Although I can’t see the detail at Metosat site itself, I presume M9HRV refers to an instrument on board Metosat 9, which is stated to have been replaced by Meteosat 10. So perhaps this image came from in-house, it’s not on the image galleries I checked.

    However after orienting myself in Google Earth and looking at the images from the link above and from the images of the Da-14 track, I really can’t see how it could be a fragment from DA-14, surely that would be more S-N than E-W?

  13. sadbutmadlad says:

    Looking at the NASA animation, the Russian meteorite could only be an outlier if it came after the closest approach of DA-14. The Earth rotates into position for trailing debris but is not in position for a Russian approach prior.

  14. beobrigitte says:

    If so, the Chelyabinsk meteor could have been one of the outriders ahead of DA-14, and the San Francisco fireball later that night, after DA-14 had passed by, could have been one of several other fragments trailing behind DA-14.

    Rightly or wrongly – I took this as the most probable explanation.

    It’s a good job it didn’t happen during the cold war, America might have got one back!!!

    If the “red phone” and all the spy satellites failed, yes, this would have been very probable.
    In view of this, with a starving, greatly reduced, mostly very ill, population there wouldn’t have been worries like:
    “unhealthy foods should be treated like cigarettes.”
    [I just overheard this (on sky news for a change) as I was thinking about whether the Russians would have “retaliated” ….]
    I believe this “unhealthy foods should be treated like cigarettes” has already begun.
    The consumer chooses which food he/she eats. Yes, we do have large quantities and an even larger selection of various foods, all of which is heavily advertised. Now the consumer is being told that they:
    – are addicts
    – can’t help themselves
    – need the government to make the decision for them

    In my view there is far too much food and varieties of, available. But it is not my place to tell people what to eat. It is their free choice.
    Do I like pre-cooked meals? NO! So in the supermarket I walk past them. Do I like cream? You bet! I still don’t buy it every time I go to the shopping.

    I make the decision! And I would very much like to make the decision whether to smoke in a pub or not. I can’t do this anymore.
    I have been “infantisised” by people who would never ever survive It’s a good job it didn’t happen during the cold war, America might have got one back!!!if this really would happen. They are too busy dealing with their paranoid fear of a little smoke; nursing lactose intolerance, are jogging to keep fit (even if jogging kills them) and eating all the green stuff so the herbivores on this planet starve, and cows don’t fart so their methane release does not melt the polar ice caps any longer.
    What would these people do if all of a sudden there was nothing left?
    Nature’s law is and always has been that the strongest do survive. And the strongest make their own decisions!

  15. harleyrider1978 says:

    How about a smile!
    Oklahoma committee kills anti-smoking bill
    A measure killed by the Oklahoma Senate Monday would have changed state law to allow cities to pass their own smoke-free ordinances. http://newsok.com/article/3756712?fb_comment_id=fbc_211062975685195_583558_211089535682539#f3c1bae12f13012

  16. Pingback: Asteroid DA14 Modelled | Frank Davis

  17. Pingback: Bulgarian Government Resigns | Frank Davis

  18. HetHeru says:

    Peace and blessings Frank. Did u get the results from plugging the vectors for DA14 into ur simulation model yet?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Yes, I did. In my simulation model DA-14’s closest approach to Earth was at 15 Feb 2013 19:23, which is just 2 minutes earlier than the reported 19:25. And it was about 300 km nearer to the Earth than the reported 34,050 km. My value varies with the time interval I use for computations. I posted more here.

      I’m now trying out a halo of rock fragments around DA-14 to see if they strike the Earth, and where they strike. I’ll post something when I’ve got some results.

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