Wilson Center’s Science & Technology Innovation Program

Chelyabinsk Meteor Highlights Value of Citizen Sensors

In Citizen Science, Commons Lab on February 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

A meteor landed in the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk Feb. 15, injuring more than a thousand Russians and causing widespread property damage. According to NASA, the meteor is the biggest to hit earth in over a century, estimated to be more than 50 feet wide and heavier than the Eiffel Tower. Enterprising citizens have begun searching for valuable fragments as authorities work to replace the thousands of windows shattered in the blast. Based on infrasound sensor readings from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, the meteor released approximately 300 kilotons of energy.

But while official and standardized sources are already giving valuable information on this event, so have decentralized citizen sensors. Amazing footage from dashboard and hand-held cameras began circulating at the same time traditional news outlets picked up the story. Dashboard mounted cameras are commonplace in the former Soviet Union — a quick search of YouTube brings up plenty of videos of hair-raising collisions. The ubiquity of these affordable recording devices allowed people in and around Chelyabinsk to document a rare and scientifically significant situation — and some of the best footage showed up on news broadcasts around the globe. Using this video, scientists were able to determine that the meteor flew in at a shallow angle of 20 degrees above the horizontal, described as a “grazing impact through the atmosphere.”

This event depicts the new status quo. Citizens might not be replacing traditional media, but they are certainly supporting it. The amateur footage from Chelyabinsk provides on the ground perspective that previously went unrecorded.

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  1. Definitely, the article raises an interesting new fact of life… the new media now includes the citizen in a big way! Given your interest in this, I think you really need to take a look at some really interesting new research that I’ve recently come across that provides a powerful way to think about such phenomena… It’s called “The Theory of Crowd Capital” and you can download it here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2193115

    I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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