Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Google Earth Photos on the Day of the Meteor at Chelyabinsk

By Britt Maxwell

This blog is Part I of a three part series about meteor shock wave damage to man made structures. Part II is about structures that have been destroyed (as a result of meteor shock waves) as reported in news since 1900. Part III will be a detail analysis of why the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant Warehouse collapsed.  

Google Earth Image of Zinc Plant Warehouse at Chelyabinsk

Google Earth (GE) has posted satellite photos of Chelyabinsk and Lake Chebarkul that were made on February 15, 2013, the day a meteor blasted this area with a devastating shock wave. Presently you can only see these images by selecting the image history tool. The first photo is of the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant Warehouse where the roof collapsed. It shows us for the first time exactly how much of the roof collapsed. The fallen roof area is black in the photo because it is now just a shadow. You can tell from the photos made on the ground that a significant part of the roof fell beyond where the brick wall fell on the west side of the building. But now we can see that a small part of the roof on the south end of the building appears to still be intact. Using the Google Earth measurement tool we can see that roughly a roof area of 21 x 50 meters collapsed. This is 1050 square meters or 11,300 square feet.  

In the GE image, the street traffic seems to be normal. Earlier in the day after the meteor hit, vehicles on the west side of street were forced to cross the median to avoid brick debris in the street that came from a partial collapse of the west exterior wall of the Zinc Plant Warehouse (see photo below). This is an important photograph because it shows us exactly what the debris looked like before the clean up crews had arrived. My dimensional analysis of the site shows that the brick was blasted some 70 feet from the building by air pressure that was trapped inside the building when the roof fell. I will include more details on this in Part III.

Until now we did not know if there was snow load on the roof. The GE photo also shows us that there apparently was no snow load on the roof when it collapsed. At least we can tell that the remaining roof on each side does not have snow on it. Apparently the roof surface was dark enough to melt the snow that can be seen on other roofs in the area. This is significant because snow load can be a contributing factor to roof collapses. I had been thinking that snow load added to the meteor shock wave had caused this collapse, but now it looks like snow was not a factor. The best view on the ground of the snow conditions on other roofs can be seen in two nice 360 degree panoramic images that have been uploaded by Rustam Gadrakhmanov at 360cities.net. These photos clearly show some roofs with snow and some without.

Google Earth Image of Meteor Hole in Lake Chebarkul

The whole world now knows the exact location of the hole in the ice at Lake Chebarkul made by the meteor thanks to satellite images posted on the Internet by astrium-geo.com and by the Google Earth images of the area. The image at astrium-geo was made a week after the meteor on February 22 by a Pléiades satellite. Below is a screen shot of the meteor hole from Google Earth made the day the meteor hit on February 15. In this photo there appears to be 4 vehicles and people walking around the larger meteor hole. These maybe the first aerial images of a meteor crater on Earth created in ice. There is a serious effort underway to retrieve the object that made this hole. In this pursuit a 3-D radar image of the bottom of the lake has been made. Another crater on the bottom about 10 meters away from the surface crater was found. Scanning the lake area you can see other locations that attracted attention. A second round hole in the ice that is much larger can be seen about 2.8 kilometers to the northeast. Since nobody was paying attention to that, I assume this hole was created by some other means. It looks like there is some kind of warm water runoff going to this spot from a drain pipe.

In closing I have to say that a lot important information was released with these photos that can help scientists unravel the details of this remarkable event. The Google Earth team seems to make a concerted effort to release images whenever a disaster occurs. You typically have to wait a few weeks, but eventually the images will appear. I first utilized this remarkable tool when Hurricane Katrina ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana in 2005. Since then the Google Earth team has uploaded images of all the significant tornado events that I have researched. They also posted images of the tsunami disaster in Japan in 2011. Good work and keep it up.