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Chelyabinsk meteor

Today I Learned: There is Such a Thing as ‘Meteorburn’

Today’s accidental research find: some people were actually sunburnt by the Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013 (okay, maybe that should be ‘meteorburnt’). Of 1113 witnesses who were outside during the event, some 415 reported feeling warm, 315 “hot”, while 25 (2.2%) noted the heat was so intense they were ‘sunburnt’ by it. One of those, Korkino resident Vladimir Petrov, reported sunburn “as severe as causing his skin to peel off some time after the event”.

Additionally, 180 people reported that their eyes hurt during the event, with 70 of those temporarily blinded, and 11 receiving retinal burns.

Interestingly though, it is a bit of a mystery as to how the fireball could have ‘sunburnt’ people on the ground:

The estimated UV dose resulting from the passage of the Chelyabinsk fireball would not have exceeded 200 W at a range of 30 km, and yet reports of suffering sunburn and skin peeling, the latter requiring a minimum dosage of at least 1,000 W, were reported—indeed, the sensation of feeling heat was reported at ranges in excess of 100 km from the Chelyabinsk fireball path. Clearly, this is an area requiring continued investigation. (Reference: “Electrophonic Sound Generation by the Chelyabinsk Fireball”, by Martin Beech)

Other odd experiences during the event included so-called ‘electrophonic sounds’ (sounds heard at the same time as the meteor, even though it was too far away to hear instantaneously), and odd smells including a sulfur scent. All in all, the sort of thing Charles Fort would have enjoyed very much….

Update: It seems ‘meteorburn’ is not a new thing! Martin Kottmeyer sent in this report of a huge fireball seen over England in 1719 that has many parallels with the Chelyabinsk meteor:

“Sitting at the fire-side about eight a clock at night, the Moon shining then very bright, and the sky clear, not the least cloud to be seen, on the sudden there appeared a very great light far brighter than the Sun at noon-day, accompanied with so great an heat, that the arm of mine which was next to the window burnt for many hours as if it had been scalded. There was so great a smoak, that I thought, and so did many others, that all the ground had been on fire; but we soon perceived that it was in the sky.

…Some minutes after this (I should think at least seven or eight) we heard a report like a great cannon (much greater than ever I heard.) It shook the house and windows very much. About a minute after, there went off to our thinking, about thirty, not so big. They sounded just as the Tower-Guns did, when we were in Mincing Lane, but shook the house and windows much more.

Witness testimony of this fireball also included reports of electrophonic sounds; one account mentions “I thought I heard a noise of hissing, like what is made by the flying of a large rocket in the air”.

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