Friday, February 15, 2013

Great to see a focus on science in dealing with the Siberian meteor...

by Salman Hameed

Unless you are living under a rock (ha ha!), you probably have heard about the spectacular meteor that went through the Siberian skies earlier today. It is absolutely breathtaking to see the videos of the meteor. Initially I thought - oh it is just another fireball. But no - this is quite amazing! Here is one as an example (and you can find lot more at this NYT site):

So couple of thoughts. First of all, it is unfortunate that over a thousand people have been injured because of the damage (mostly shattered windows) caused by sonic boom. But if you have to get injured, how cool would it be to be injured by a meteor?

Second, what an amazing world we live in today. We often complain about lack of critical thinking and a lack of appreciation of science amongst general public. Yes - that is often a justifiable complaint. But look, it is so cool that much of the coverage and the discussion around it has been informed by astronomy. And this I this is very cool! If the same event had happened a few hundred years back, people would have attributed to divine causes and/or to premonition (plus, only a handful of people in Siberia would have actually known about it. A big thank you in this instant to our communications ability and globalization). And while some people will still come up with crazy ideas, the dominant narrative is about fact that this is a meteor and part of solar system. These rocks have crashed on Earth before and they will crash on Earth again. This is a natural part of living on a rock in a solar system.

And thirdly, an important question: why the heck are there so many cameras on the dashboard of Russian cars? Well the answer is actually quite funny and comes from a NYT blog:

Some of the numerous videos that quickly emerged of the incident highlighted a distinctly Russian phenomenon: the dashboard cam. As the blogger Marina Galperina explained last year, they are commonplace in Russia partly because of the dangerous driving conditions that lead to so many accidents, and with an unreliable police force such cameras can provide valuable evidence following a crash. 
"The conditions of Russian roads are perilous, with insane gridlock in cities and gigantic ditches, endless swamps and severe wintry emptiness on the backroads and highways. Then there are large, lawless areas you don’t just ride into, the police with a penchant for extortion and deeply frustrated drivers who want to smash your face. 
Psychopaths are abundant on Russian roads. You best not cut anyone off or undertake some other type of maneuver that might inconvenience the 200-pound, six-foot-five brawling children you see on YouTube hopping out of their SUVs with their dukes up. They will go ballistic in a snap, drive in front of you, brake suddenly, block you off, jump out and run towards your vehicle. Next thing you start getting punches in your face because your didn’t roll up your windows, or getting pulled out of the car and beaten because you didn’t lock the doors. 
These fights happen all the time and you can’t really press charges. Point to your broken nose or smashed windows all you want. The Russian courts don’t like verbal claims. They do, however, like to send people to jail for battery and property destruction if there’s definite video proof."


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