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Episode 67: Russian Meteor Conspiracies

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Recap: The Chelyabinsk meteor is the largest known to pass through Earth's atmosphere since the Tunguska event in 1908. Given the technology today, it's also the best studied and so we know a lot about it. However, many different conspiracies and related ideas have cropped up in just the past two weeks since the explosion, and this episode covers some of the major ones.

Answer to Puzzler from Episode 66: There was no puzzler in Episode 66.

Puzzler for Episode 67: How could you find out whether it was a comet or an asteroid that hit?

Puzzler (Retrodicted) for Episode 66: How many logical fallacies can you spot - and what are they - in the quote about the Fashion Pendant?

The basic technology of what is inside our Fashion Pendant is what is called a Schumann Resonator. What makes it so special aside from you will learn below, is how we designed the electronics. We are the first to create such a device that runs off a standard watch battery and still lasts for an estimated one year. ... The energy emitted from our Fashion Pendant also is the first of it's kind to travel through people. ... Schumann Resonance is the fundamental tuning fork of the planet, and is used by all living things as a base frequency that tunes and balances the mind and body. The Schumann Resonance frequency range is the same as the human brain Theta and Alpha waves, and these brain waves are in part tuned by the Schumann Resonance frequency range. It is also evident as seen by an EEG machine that the human brain responds extremely well to Schumann Resonance and responds very badly to the 60HZ EMF emitted by electrical wiring and power lines. Even NASA continues to research the impact of Schumann Resonance.

Q&A: There was no Q&A for this episode.

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Claim: As with the last episode on Schumann Resonance, there is no specific conspiracy related to the Chelyabinsk meteor, so I'll be starting out with the basics of the object and then get into a few of the more popular conspiracies. I'm also going to apologize in advance for my horrible pronunciation of non-English words during this episode.

Setting the Scene

As the work week of February 11 was drawing to a close, the world of space enthusiasts was growing in excitation with the close approach of asteroid 2012 DA14, an asteroid roughly 100 ft or 30 m across with an estimated mass of 40,000 metric tons. The asteroid was to pass as close as 27,700 km, or 17,200 miles from the surface of Earth, within the orbit of most satellites. It was the closest approach for an known object of that size since we'd been monitoring them.

NASA was all set to stream live coverage, the Goldstone radar facility was going to measure its size and spin, and lots of amateur astronomers were going to watch it as it crossed Earth's orbit going from south to north over the course of several hours. It wouldn't be visible to the unaided human eye, but it still would've been really neat.

I awoke much earlier than usual on Friday morning, around 8AM instead of 11 or so, and I happened to see a Facebook post by Phil Plait that a large meteor was seen over some hard-to-pronounce Russian city. His initial thoughts were that it was a hoax until more reports and imagery started to come in. Over the next several hours, the Chelyabinsk meteor briefly became the biggest news in the world.

The Basic Facts as We Know Them

The facts as we know them are that on February 15, 2013, at 9:20 local time or 3:20 UTC, 16 hours before the closest approach of 2012 DA14, a meteor was observed streaming over the skies of Chelyabinsk in sort of the eastern-middle southern part of Russia, in the southern Ural region. The meteor exploded in an airburst roughly 15-25 km (9-16 miles) above the ground with the atmosphere absorbing most of the energy which is estimated at about 500 kT of TNT, 20-30 times more powerful than the atomic bombs that the United States detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was bright enough to move sun-cast shadows, brighter than the sun itself, and witnesses reported feeling heat from the explosion.

But, it created a powerful shockwave, or sonic boom, that spread over the area and shattered glass, set off car alarms, and did significant damage. The glass shattering injured around 1500 people, two seriously. Over 4300 buildings in 6 cities were damaged.

As I'm recording this about two weeks later, we know know quite a bit based on all the reports and video. The mass is estimated to be about 10,000 tons, and it was a stony meteor. With that mass, it was probably about 15-20 meters across, or about 60% the size of 2012 DA14. It entered the atmosphere at about 18 km/sec, or 40,000 mph. That's about Mach 52, or 52 times the speed of sound. It came from just a bit south of due East.

It was the largest known meteorite to enter Earth's atmosphere since the Tunguska event in 1908, and the low-frequency sound energy from the blast wave was the largest ever recorded, lasting about 32 seconds and traveling as far as Antarctica and Greenland, picked up by instruments that were designed to detect nuclear explosions.

Because of the hundreds if not thousands of recordings with precise time stamps and GPS locations noted, the previous orbit of the object has been calculated to be elliptical with a closest approach to the sun of 0.82±0.03 A.U. and a farthest distance of 2.64±0.49 A.U., meaning it crossed the orbits of both Mars and Earth and so belonged to a class of Earth-crossing asteroids known as Apollos. The reason everyone and their pet llama had dashcams on their cars is that there are so many car accidents in Russia that the insurance companies won't pay out claims unless you can prove you weren't at fault.

While the world was paying attention to Chelyabinsk, and then to 2012 DA14 as it approached, a fireball was seen over California in the USA about a day later. And all three of these were just a few days after a similar one over Cuba.

These are all coincidences, and that's the majority of the basics of what are known. Or at least, that's what THEY want you to think.

All at the Same Time

When something like this occurs, you can bet your bottom Amero that good ol' Richard Hoagland, the Official Science Advisor® of Coast to Coast AM, is going to make an appearance. With a host who refuses to challenge almost all guests, and who has stated repeatedly he believes there are no coincidences, you could pretty much guess where the conversation went.

Richard correctly pointed out that the Russian event could not have been a piece of 2012 DA14, the orbits were completely different.

But, despite all his ramblings and not getting to the point, Richard did claim that he doesn't think, rather he can prove that at least one of them wasn't natural. He claimed that it was 2012 DA14, that it was a natural object, but it was unnaturally sent to us. He then cherry-picked numbers to say that it took 33 hours to cross the Earth-Moon system, and that its closest approach was at his magical 19.5 GMT. Of course, he claims that it's 19.5 latitude that is important, not time, but that the aliens who "vectored" it towards us wanted him to pick up on the unnaturality of it by using its closest approach time. Of course, it was 19.4, but what's 5 minutes between friends.

In reality, they seem related simply because of their coincidental time. And because we actually knew about them. 2012 DA14 is not big as far as asteroids go. Funding for asteroid detection is geared towards finding everything larger than 1 km across, just like my dissertation was to find all craters on Mars 1 km across. Though a few years after that mandate, in 2005, the target was changed to 140 meters and larger, but the project is always under-funded, in this case receiving less than half of the money it needs. We've probably found most of the objects 1 km and larger by now. I found about 384,000 craters on Mars that are 1 km across. If the detection threshold were just a little smaller, say, 900 meters across instead of 1000 meters, then the number of objects to find would increase dramatically. For Mars, the number of craters in that 900 m to 1 km range is about 100,000. Yes, 25% as many as ALL the craters >1 km.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is about 30 m across. Not 1 km, not 900 m, not 300 m, but 30 m. Objects this size are INCREDIBLY difficult to find and really are only observed when they're very close to Earth. This one happened to have been found during its previous closest approach back on February 23, 2012. While it was the closest KNOWN object of that size, I can probably guarantee you that many more asteroids that size and larger have passed just as close in the last century, but they passed completely undetected because of their small size. Even though that's the size of a small medium office building.

Meanwhile, the odds of an object the size of the one seen over Chelyabinsk hitting Earth are estimated to be about 1-10% in any given year. The uncertainty is again because we don't really know how many of these objects are actually out there, they're based on simulations and observations based on larger asteroids and an assumed distribution of sizes.

It was both coincidence and it seemed like it wasn't coincidence because we actually knew about it this time.

God Hates Russia

But, it wasn't just a coincidence in timing. The internet was quickly ablaze with God Hates Russia. Or Flying Spaghetti Monster hates Russia. In other words, the previous known really big impact was in Tunguska, in the western half of Russia. This one, a century later, was also in Russia. Clearly - the thinking goes - if asteroid impacts are random events, then if one hit Russia, the other shouldn't have.

That's the problem with statistics. Humans suck at them. We think we have an intuitive grasp of what's going on with statistics, but we don't.

Asteroid strikes are random events, and if you were to look at the distribution of 10,000 of the last meteor strikes on Earth, you would see that. Problem is, you can't because the majority of Earth is uninhabited and over 70% of it is water. When you have just a sample size of two, unrelated events, each one can hit wherever it wants. It's like flipping a coin -- getting heads the first time has nothing to do with getting heads the second time. In addition to that, Russia is really big. It's almost as big as China and the United States or Canada combined, and it covers 11% of all the world's land area.

So, IF a meteor is going to fall over a country, it is more likely to randomly fall over Russia than any other country in the world by nearly a factor of 2.

From Coincidence to Missiles

Probably not started by but definitely fueled by the ultranationalist parliamentarian Vladimir Zhirinovsky, one of the leading conspiracy stories is that this was a secret weapons test by the US against the motherland. Ignoring reality, Zhirinovsky said, "Nothing will ever fall out there. If something falls, it's people doing that. People are the instigators of wars, the provocateurs." When he said "out there," he meant from space, hence why I say he is ignoring reality.

The orbit that was calculated can be done by anyone who takes the time to look at the data and do the math. The orbit shows that this could not possibly have come from the United States, unless you want to argue that the US has a secret missile launch program that can get stuff up to speeds over 17 times faster than the fastest known public missile and is stationed out around Mars. Or at least well beyond the Earth-Moon system.

From Missiles to UFOs

Of course, if it can't be a US-based or terrestrial missile, then the next logical conclusion - for some - is that it was a UFO.

Enter Richard C. Hoagland, again. Richard went on Coast to Coast just four days later, on February 19, 2013, to state that in some photos he sees two separate contrails left by the meteor, meaning that it had airfoils and was stabilized and therefore not natural. What Richard is more than happy to ignore is that he's wrong, and that the images show one contrail that splits when the meteor breaks into two main chunks. That didn't stop him from telling people to go out and pick up the debris because it would be UFO parts or pieces of machinery that would prove he's right.

Otherwise the standard story is that this was simply a UFO that was shot down. Somehow, the Russians have technology that can track and destroy something traveling over 17 times faster than their fastest missile. Intriguing.

From UFOs to Planet X

If you don't like the aliens nor the missile conspiracy, another is that it's Planet X. Not THE Planet X, but one of Planet X's groupies. Gordon James Gianninoto was a second-time guest on Coast to Coast AM on February 19, just after Hoagland, and he's an interesting chap who claims to have an IQ of over 200 and had many privileges as a child due to his father's status. He also claims to be somewhat psychic.

And, he also happens to be a devotee of Zecharia Sitchin as well as Nancy Lieder, somehow managing to merge those two Planet X stories into one in his own mind. He also claimed in his original interview back in 2010 that Planet X would definitely be seen and announced by the end of that year. He is convinced that NASA has known about this for over 50 years despite the fact that it only formed in 1958 and then later claiming that they discovered it in 1983. See episode 54 for more on that.

Anyway, Gordon was on and epitomized one of the other conspiracy claims I've heard about the Chelyabinsk explosion, that it was a meteor, a natural meteor, but that it came from the "tail" of Planet X. As in, Planet X has a swarm of space junk behind it and one of those pieces just happened to explode over Russia.

Again, other than all the other problems related to Planet X not existing that I've detailed in five episodes so far, a problem with this is the orbit. We can figure out what the orbit of this object was before it hit Earth, and so we know that it was not from any thing that any of the Planet X proponents claim is where Planet X is.

From Planet X to God

Of course, given that anything out of the ordinary is going to cause some people to look for non-rational explanations, and while some choose conspiracies and others choose aliens, many others choose God. One caller into Coast to Coast linked it to the Christian Bible's book of Revelation, while the senior Orthodox bishop of Chelyabinsk said, "From the Scriptures, we know that the Lord often sends people signs and warnings via natural forces."

I don't have much to say about this particular opinion.

From God to Scams (cough)

To bring this back down to Earth and away from conspiracies, scams have cropped up. With such a large meteor that exploded, many small pieces did survive their descent and the meteorite hunt was on. Lots have been found. Lots have been sold. Lots of stuff that has been sold is not part of the Chelyabinsk meteor. Lots that have been sold are not even meteorites.

Unfortunately, just as it's human nature to link unrelated but similar events, there will always be those trying to make a quick ruble off of a popular event by scamming people.

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