Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites
Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said “The chances that your tombstone will read ‘Killed by an Asteroid’ are about the same as they’d be for ‘Killed in Airplane Crash’.”
Part of the reason for this is the Earth’s atmospheric ability to burn up inbound space rocks before they reach the surface, a process that ensures that most meteors never become meteorites.
Of the 33,162 meteorites found in the past 100 years, only 625 were seen. Today’s visualization from data designer Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez groups these 625 observed meteorites by the year they fell, classification, mass, and landing location on Earth.
Asteroid, Meteoroids, Meteors, and Meteorites
Not all flying space rocks are the same. Their origins and trajectories define its type.
Asteroid: A large rocky body in space, in orbit around the Sun.
Meteoroid: Much smaller rocks or particles in orbit around the Sun.
Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor, or a shooting star.
Meteorite: If a small asteroid or large meteoroid survives its fiery passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands on Earth’s surface.
Bolide: A very bright meteor that often explodes in the atmosphere, also known as a fireball.
This graphic classifies meteorites into four types based on their composition: stony, stony-iron, iron and other.
Non-magmatic or Primitive
Top 5 Meteorites by Size
While half of all observed meteorites weighed less than 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs), there are a few exceptional ones that stand out. The graphic highlights the five largest meteorites ever observed, and when they fell:
|Sikhote-Alin, Russia||23 MT||1947||Iron|
|Jilin, China||4 MT||1976||Stony|
|Allende, Mexico||2 MT||1969||Stony|
|Norton County, USA||1.1 MT||1948||Stony|
|Kunya-Urgench, Turkmenistan||1.1 MT||1998||Stony|
Each category differs in their amount of iron-nickel metal and what they reveal about the early solar system.
Fireballs in the Sky: Bolides
Small asteroids frequently enter and disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere randomly around the globe, creating fireballs known as bolides. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program mapped data gathered by U.S. government sensors from 1994 to 2013.
The data indicates that small asteroids impacted Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a bolide (or fireball), on 556 separate occasions over a 20-year period. Almost all asteroids of this size disintegrate in the atmosphere and are harmless.
A notable exception was the Chelyabinsk event in 2013, which was the largest known natural object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event. A house-sized asteroid entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk at over 11 miles per second, and blew apart 14 miles above the ground.
The explosion released an energy equivalent to ~440,000 tons of TNT, generating a shock wave that shattered windows over 200 square miles—damaging several buildings and injuring over 1,600 people.
Look Out Above
While the night sky appears to be a beautiful tableau of the cosmos, these two visualizations paint a dramatic galactic battle. Rocks inundate our planet as it moves through the darkness of space. The resiliency of Earth’s atmosphere to erode these invaders has allowed life to flourish—until the next big one comes through.
Remember the Dinosaurs?
Visualizing the Speed of Light (Fast, but Slow)
In our every day lives, light is instantaneous – but in the context of our solar system and beyond, light is surprisingly slow.
Visualizing the Speed of Light
With the flip of a switch, your room can be instantenously flooded with brightness.
In fact, there is no noticeable lag effect at all.
That’s because emitted photons travel at 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, meaning it takes only 1/500,000th of a second for light to reach even the furthest part of an ordinary room. And, if it could go through the wall, it would orbit the entire planet 7.5 times in just one second.
Light Speed is Fast…
In our every day experiences, we never see light as having to “take time” to do anything. It’s inconceivably fast, brightening up everything in its path in an instant — and with a few odd caveats, scientists believe light speed to be the fastest-known achievable pace in the universe.
But what if we get out of our bubble, and look at light from outside the confines of life on Earth?
Today’s animation, which comes from planetary scientist Dr. James O’Donoghue, helps visualize the speed of light in a broader context. It helps remind us of the mechanics of this incredible phenomenon, while also highlighting the vast distances between celestial bodies — even in our small and insignificant corner of the solar system.
Light Speed is Slow…
Once a photon is sent into the vast abyss, suddenly the fastest possible speed seems somewhat pedestrian.
- Moon: It takes about 1.255 seconds for light to get from Earth to the moon.
- Mars: Mars is about 150x further than the moon — about 40 million miles (54.6 million km) in the closest approach — so it takes 3 minutes to get there from Earth.
- Sun: The sun is 93 million miles (150 million km) away, meaning it takes 8 minutes to see its light.
Let that sink in for a moment: the sun could explode right now, and we wouldn’t even know about it for eight long minutes.
Going Further, Taking Longer
If it takes light a few minutes to get to the closest planets, how long does it take for light to travel further away from Earth?
- Jupiter: The largest planet is 629 million km away when it’s closest, taking light about 35 minutes.
- Saturn: The ringed planet is about as twice as far as Jupiter, taking light 71 minutes.
- Pluto: It takes about 5.5 hours for light to go from Earth to the dwarf planet.
- Alpha Centauri: The nearest star system is 4.3 light years away, or 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km).
- Visible stars: The average distance to the 300 brightest stars in the sky is about 347 light years.
If you really want to get the feeling of how “slow” light really is, watch the below video and journey from the sun to Jupiter. It’s done in real-time, so it takes about 43 minutes:
So while light obviously travels at a ludicrous speed, it really depends on your vantage point.
On Earth, light is instantaneous – but anywhere else in the universe, it’s pretty inadequate for getting anywhere far (especially in contrast to the average human lifespan).
Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists
This mesmerizing video visualizes the best-selling music artists from 1969 to 2019 and highlights how long they held onto the top spot.
Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists
Fame, fortune, and adoring fans—this is often the dream-turned-reality for the world’s most popular music artists.
Thanks to their relatability and creative prowess, these artists have not only boasted longevity in their record sales, but they’ve also dominated the charts year after year.
Today’s video from Data is Beautiful visualizes the world’s best-selling music artists from the past 50 years (1969 to 2019) and highlights the length of their reigns.
Do you see your favorite artist or group in the mix?
The Best Selling Artists, By Decade
Of all of the artists in the past half-century, two stand out: Michael Jackson and Eminem. Michael Jackson has the highest cumulative number of years in the top spot (~12 years), while Eminem holds the longest continuous best-selling artist slot (8.5 years).
Let’s dive into each decade to uncover defining moments and key technology advancements that pushed the art of music into exciting new areas.
This era of music is defined by the emergence of the rock genre, with artists like The Eagles and Led Zeppelin, the latter of which is widely considered a forefather of hard rock and heavy metal.
The Beatles became known, not just for their music, but for pushing the envelope with how they recorded their music. They used analog sound editing techniques—utilizing a sound effect “bank” to record overtop finished music tracks to add depth and texture. This left a huge mark on the music world, and in many ways influenced how modern music is recorded.
The introduction of 8-tracks and cassette tapes enabled people to play albums in their vehicles, opening up new possibilities for on-the-go entertainment.
Enter the age of electronic music—synthesizers, theremins, electronic samplers, and electronic drum kits popped up in the music scene, most predominantly in the United Kingdom and the United States. The German-based group Kraftwerk was one of the first to pioneer using a synthesizer in their sets.
For example, one of the reasons for Michael Jackson’s success was that the technology of the time allowed for much wider distribution at much lower costs. In addition, Thriller was one of the first albums recorded on compact discs (CDs), which were introduced in 1982.
The MTV era (launched 1981) also significantly impacted the sales of albums, as music now offered both visual and audio experiences—and broadcast directly into people’s homes.
A predominant factor of the 90s music scene was the explosion of popular music artists being commissioned to record the theme songs for blockbuster films.
The most notable artists and their corresponding blockbuster movies of the time include:
- Elton John ─ The Lion King
- Celine Dion ─ Titanic
- Whitney Houston ─ Bodyguard
- Bryan Adams ─ Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
- Madonna ─ Evita
While the 1990s marked a decade of great variety in top-selling artists, it was also the peak of the music industry’s sales, at a whopping $21.5 billion in 1999—a figure not since repeated.
Eminem dominated 2000s record sales, but the decade also featured brief stints from the Backstreet Boys in 2000 and Rihanna in 2009.
Eminem helped to launch hip hop music into the mainstream. Being one of the most controversial best-selling artists of all time, he pushed genre boundaries through his technical prowess, wordsmithing, and relatability to wider audiences.
The 21st century also brought music streaming services such as Spotify to the forefront, forever altering how people listen to their favorite artists and bands.
Only three artists have hit the best-selling artist spot in the current decade: Rihanna, Drake, and Luis Fonsi—the Puerto Rican singer most well known for his hit single “Despacito”.
In 2016, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified that Drake was the first music artist ever to reach #1 through streaming platform sales and downloads, instead of through physical album sales.
According to RIAA, streaming revenues jumped from almost half of all music industry sales in 2017, to over 75% of sales in 2018—with $4.6 billion in total record sales as of Q1 2018.
The Future Of Music
Musicians are a creative breed, continuously experimenting with new instruments, sound effects, and recording styles.
Some artists are even going so far as use only an iPhone to record their work—showcasing the modern-era ability to record high-fidelity quality and achieve studio-like results.
With a new decade just around the corner, we may see even more possibilities for technology to revamp how we access our favorite tunes—and how artists distribute them to their fanbase.
Who might become the next Beatles, Michael Jackson, or Drake?
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