It was like something out of science fiction: a huge trail of smoke, a brilliant flash and the fierce rumble of a sonic boom blowing in windows. Earth had received a visitor from space, a meteor that exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk just a year ago. At European AstroFest 2014, Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University Belfast will recount that dramatic event of 15 February 2013, describing what the meteor was, where it came from and why we didn’t spot it until it had already entered Earth’s atmosphere. The Chelyabinsk fireball was a warning shot across our bow – the Universe has us in its sights and is flinging asteroids and comets this way all the time!
Professor Fitzsimmons is an expert in minor planets, i.e. comets and asteroids, and works at detecting such objects in the inner Solar System. A large part of his research over the past year has involved the study of Comet ISON, but the Chelyabinsk event came out of the blue – how long will we have to wait until the next one?