Conference focuses on defending the planet

David Trilling holds a rock in his Northern Arizona University office as he talks about meteors and asteroids. Trilling is helping plan a conference to discuss how to plan for and avoid potential asteroid strikes. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

A flash lit up the dawn sky above Chebarkul.

Thousands of Russians flocked to their windows and watched the fireball. Without warning, an explosion rang out. The infrasound waves sent a shock through windows, dishware and electronics, spraying glass shrapnel and injuring more than 1,000 people.

Incredibly, no one was killed.

The meteor was small and had passed into Earth’s atmosphere undetected. But what if it had been 10 times bigger? How would authorities have responded?

“If it was 10 times bigger, it wouldn’t have blown up,” said Northern Arizona University Assistant Professor David Trilling. “Maybe little pieces would have come off, but the whole thing would have come and hit as one big bullseye and whoever’s underneath is in big trouble.”

Trilling says that until the Russian meteor last week, no one would have warned people to step away from their windows when seeing a meteor.

The astronomer, an expert in so-called near-Earth asteroids, is organizing this year’s Planetary Defense Conference in Flagstaff in April. Experts will discuss how to anticipate, plan for and mitigate the threat from such inbound asteroids.