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Nightly News   |  February 16, 2013

Russia meteor exposed vulnerability

NASA budgeted $20 million dollars last year to look for objects that may hit the earth, but some scientists say more money should be spent on detection and ways to avoid a possible collision. NBC’s Michelle Franzen reports.

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>>> good evening. a lot of disturbing questions are being raised tonight about just how vulnerable we are from giant asteroids hurtling through space. after our planet was caught in a sort of cosmic shooting gallery yesterday. if that explosive and damaging strike from a ten-ton meteor in russia didn't get our attention then maybe the close fly by of a large asteroid several hours later did. experts say a direct hit on land would have resulted in catastrophic destruction. so what's being done to identify threatening space rocks ? more importantly, do we have the means to intercept them before they hit? the answers aren't exactly reassuring. nbc's michelle franzen has this report.

>> reporter: shock waves. today crews in the russian province covered a trail of debris, some 50 acres caused by yesterday's fireball and at a nearby frozen lake searchers collected possible fragments of the meteor. scientists say it exploded with a force 20 times greater than the hiroshima bomb with the earth's atmosphere acting as a cushion. the fireball shattered windows, damaged buildings, and injured more than a thousand people. the biggest bang in more than a century caught scientists by surprise as the world was focused on a bigger asteroid and its close encounter with earth. and overnight in northern california reports of another possible fireball captured on amateur video . separate incidents scientists say but with the same message. i think that the meteor incident in russia is a wakeup call especially when one considers that it will arrive at the exact same time, exact same day as the asteroid fly by. so i think that we're really becoming very aware that we are in jeopardy from these types of collisions.

>> reporter: aware but how well is the world prepared? nasa budgeted $20 million last year to look for objects that may hit the earth but some scientists say more money should be spent on detection and ways to avoid a possible collision. we've gotten very good at finding the big things , the kilometer sized objects, working down to smaller objects. but there are many more of the small objects like these than there are of the big ones . i'd say the appropriate technology for deflecting a dangerous asteroid could possibly be a nuclear bomb but the key is catching and detecting the objects early.

>> reporter: experts say friday's blast could have killed thousands of people had the meteor landed in the middle of a large city, a reminder, they say, that even smaller objects threatening earth should be a wakeup call . we knew factually that we lived in a celestial falling rock zone but friday taught us, reminded us that we live in a shooting gallery . in fact, we got into a cross fire . the power of the universe on display here on earth. michelle franzen , nbc news, new york.