No, A Huge Meteor Did Not Threaten A US Base With Destruction


On July 25th, a fireball graced the skies over icy Greenland near Thule Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force’s northernmost base and a key to its aerospace defense strategy. The meteor released 2.1 kilotons of energy over a installation designed to detect nuclear missile launches, which led to a predictable media freakout; Fox News posted a story about the incident beneath a picture of an explosion — definitely not this one — with a mushroom cloud spilling from Earth into space:

Seriously? Come *on*, dudes.Screenshot

But the freakout is wrong. Digging into the meteor incident demonstrates that it really isn’t that big of a deal. Here’s why.

First, “The energy that came in with this was very limited,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Task & Purpose.

The fireball above Thule, presumably a meteorite, exploded at an altitude of 43.3 kilometers — around 27 miles — and released the same energy as a very low-yield nuclear weapon. By comparison, when a falling asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013, yielding tons of viral videos, it released 440 kilotons of energy at an altitude of 23.3 kilometers — shattering windows for miles around the city.

A 440-kiloton event is relatively rare; a much smaller explosion like the one over Greenland, however is not uncommon. In fact, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory fireball tracker, there was a 2.8 kiloton fireball on June 21st that entered the atmosphere roughly 200 miles southeast of Moscow. A meteor like the one that scared the shit out of everyone in Chelybinsk in 2013 is only likely to make an appearance every 60 years or so, whereas a 2.1 kiloton fireball seems to pop up at least a few times per year. 

Part of the reason that this even made news waves was the possibility of a fireball being misconstrued as a first strike by a nuclear nation. For obvious species-ending reasons, nuclear war is looked at as a negative thing. And a nuclear war started by a mistake would really make us look silly to future alien anthropologists trying to figure out why humans decided to end it all.

That possibility — of a false trigger for nuclear war — appears to have originated with Kristensen in an Aug. 1 tweet:

Kristensen noted that the meteor exploded right above the early warning radar at Thule Air Base, which is constantly on the watch for inbound nuclear missiles.

Speaking to Task & Purpose on Friday, Kristensen said he was not concerned that this particular meteor could have been mistaken for an ICBM, but if another such event took place during an international crisis, it has the potential of triggering a false alarm.

“We’re at peace,” he said. “We may have a tense political situation, but there is no imminent threat of an attack coming from any adversary. It’s not about the situation today. It’s about the situation that could happen with these early warning systems in a tense crisis. If you imagine an atmospheric incident such as this, or another one, it can affect the early warning systems.”

Some types of atmospheric events can look like a missile coming over the horizon, Kristensen said. For example, in September 1983, the Soviet Union’s early warning system mistook sunlight reflecting off clouds as missile launches from the United States. Only the cool thinking of Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov prevented nuclear war.

Map of Greenland with location of Thule Air Base shown.Dept. Of Defense

Luckily, the systems in place to identify a first strike are seeking out objects traveling half the speed of most near-earth objects — asteroids and whatnot — that enter the atmosphere. Also, the lack of a launch indication from satellites that monitor for ICBM launches would probably tick a few boxes on the “is it a nuke?” checklist.

Task & Purpose's Pentagon correspondent, Jeff Schogol, interrupted the U.S. Air Force PAO’s lunch hour on Friday to get its statement on the incident. 'There has been no impact to Thule AB," that statement read. "For further questions, you can reach out to NASA." 

So calm down. The world isn’t ending just yet. And even if it does, a tinfoil hat will not protect you.

An adorable arctic fox keeps watch at Thule Air Base, Greenland, terrified of the meteor threat to his home country.Dept. Of Defense

A enlisted thinktank brought to you by Task & Purpose


(Islamic State Group/Al Furqan Media Network/Reuters)

CAIRO (Reuters) - After losing territory, ISIS fighters are turning to guerrilla war — and the group's newspaper is telling them exactly how to do it.

In recent weeks, IS's al-Naba online newspaper has encouraged followers to adopt guerrilla tactics and published detailed instructions on how to carry out hit-and-run operations.

The group is using such tactics in places where it aims to expand beyond Iraq and Syria. While IS has tried this approach before, the guidelines make clear the group is adopting it as standard operating procedure.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Alexandria Crawford)

A new survey of thousands of military families released on Wednesday paints a negative picture of privatized military housing, to say the least.

The Military Family Advisory Network surveyed 15,901 adults at 160 locations around the country who are either currently living in privatized military housing, or had lived in privatized housing within the last three years. One of the report's primary takeaways can be summarized in two lines: "Most responses, 93 percent, came from residents living in housing managed by six companies. None of them had average satisfaction rates at or above neutral."

Those six companies are Lincoln Military Housing, Balfour Beatty, Hunt, Lendlease/Winn, Corvias, and Michaels.

What's behind these responses? MFAN points to the "culture of resilience" found in the military community for why military families may be downplaying the severity of their situations, or putting up with subpar conditions.

"[Military] families will try to manage grim living conditions without complaint," MFAN says in its report. "The norm of managing through challenges, no matter their severity, is deeply established in military family life."

Read More Show Less

The F-35 Joint Strike Program may be the most expensive weapons program in modern military history, but it looks as though the new border wall is giving the beleaguered aircraft a run for its money.

Read More Show Less
(Associated Press/Austin American-Statesman/Jay Janner)

A Texas judge has ruled that a negligence lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense filed by victims of the Sutherland Springs church massacre in 2017 can go forward.

The suit meets the criteria to fall under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows people to seek damages in certain cases if they can prove the U.S. Government was negligent, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Under most circumstances the doctrine of sovereign immunity protects the government from lawsuits, but in this case U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez held that failure of the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense to log shooter Devin Kelley's history of mental health problems and violent behavior in an FBI database made them potentially liable.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Amy Bushatz originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT -- Loose lips sink ships, but do they reveal too much about the hugely anticipated "Top Gun" sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick," filmed onboard in February?

Not on this carrier, they don't. Although sailors here dropped a few hints about spotting movie stars around the ship as it was docked in San Diego for the film shoot, no cats — or Tomcats — were let out of the bag.

"I can't talk about that," said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, who commands the Roosevelt.

Read More Show Less