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Meteors may be more threatening to Earth than we realize

Duck and cover: scientists find that the asteroid threat to Earth may be considerably higher than previously believed.

Russia meteor gold rushEnlarge
A meteorite trail is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on Feb. 15, 2013. (Oleg Kargopolov/AFP/Getty Images)

Three related analyses of the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor strike have found that the threat to planet Earth from interstellar asteroid strikes is considerably higher than was previously believed. 

Published in the journals Nature and Science, researchers concluded that asteroids of a similar size to the Chelyabinsk rock regularly enter Earth's atmosphere — and early warning systems need to be put into place before it's too late. 

"Something like Chelyabinsk, you would only expect every 150 years on the basis of the telescopic information. But when you look at our data and extrapolate from that, we see that these things seem to be happening every 30 years or so," Peter Brown from University of Western Ontario, a lead author in the Nature study, told the BBC. 

Astronomers weren't able to predict the Chelyabinsk meteor since it was relatively small and headed to the planet in a sun-facing direction, National Geographic reported — and world attention was diverted by Asteroid 2012 DA14, which passed harmlessly over Earth. 

Brown told the BBC that the Earth should invest more time and energy into creating early warning systems for such strikes.

"Having some sort of system that scans the sky almost continuously and looks for these objects just before they hit the Earth, that probably is something worth doing," he wrote. "In the case of Chelyabinsk, a few days' to a week's warning would have been valuable."

An asteroid much bigger than Chelyabinsk could have almost unthinkable consequences.

“You’re not going to wipe out humanity,” former NASA space shuttle astronaut Edward T. Lu told The New York Times, “but if you get unlucky, you could kill 50 million people or you could collapse the world economy for a century, two centuries.” 

No pressure. 

Researchers found that the meteor that hit Russia measured 61 feet across and contained the energy of "dozens of Hiroshima bombs," according to AFP, and is estimated to have weighed about 12,000 tons. 

More from GlobalPost: Is Asteroid 2012 DA14 a threat to Earth? 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/science/131106/meteors-may-be-more-threatening-earth-we-realize