Thursday, March 29, 2007

Close encounters of the fiery kind

It’s been reported that “pieces of space junk from a Russian satellite coming out of orbit narrowly missed hitting an airliner over the Pacific Ocean” on Tuesday night.

To expand on “narrowly”, the pilot reported seeing the “flaming space junk hurtling across the sky just five nautical miles in front of and behind” his Lan Chile Airbus A340.

Now it turns out that NASA has discounted the fiery debris being that of the Russian satellite, which the space agency says “splashed down on schedule.” Rather, they now believe the airliner had a close encounter with a meteorite.

As close encounters go, there have been closer. To my knowledge, however, there is only one recorded occurrence of a meteorite actually causing injury or death to humans.

It may be of interest to note that in Poggendorff’s Annalen, a prominent scientific journal of last century, a short article occurred (volume 48, page 402, 1836) entitled “Meteoreinfall auf ein Schiff” (A meteorite fall on a ship).

The article records the impact of a meteorite on a ship in the 18th Century in, I think, the Java Sea. A substantial hole was knocked through the deck of the ship, and two sailors were recorded as being killed by the impact!

  • E. Ralph Segnit, letter in The Age, 8 January 1994


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