Ever since a massive meteor streaked through the sky and exploded near Chelyabinsk, Russia, nearly two weeks ago, worldwide interest in these giant rocks hurtling earthward from space has likewise exploded, especially on social media.
The strike prompted journalists like The Guardian’s Simon Rogers to explore just how many meteorites have struck the earth in recorded history. The answer? He posted it on his blog, with help from a group of research scientists known as the Meteoritical Society, which records all known meteorites and the impact craters of meteors, some of which date back as far as 2,300 B.C.
Rogers’ post prompted CartoDB, an online cloud-based mapping service, to use his data to create the visual map shown above and below (the map at the bottom of this page is an interactive map; you can see the full version here).
We spoke with Javier de la Torre, the co-founder of CartoDB, for more on how they went about creating the map and the global response it’s received — to date, it has been published in more than 170 news items across the world.
Q: Where did the idea to create the map come from?
A: The idea came from Simon Rogers at The Guardian newspaper. He created a map after the Russia meteorite. I saw it and thought that a more compelling visualization could be made with some design and analysis. So I worked to recreate it in a way that will be more engaging. The meteorite event was such a wild event and it made so many people think about the universe that we live in.
Q; How did you create it? Where did the data come from?
A: I got very curious about the biggest ones in history and start checking on Wikipedia. Then Simon Rogers published the data from the Meteoritical Society and I thought it would be great to make a beautiful map about it. I used the data visualization tools available in CartoDB to format and style the data you see on the map.
After publishing the map, many people started asking how I made it, so I created a screencast to show how it was done. You can check it out here.
Q: What is the Meteoritical Society? How do they collect/confirm their information?
The Meteoritical Society is a collection of experts who document and collect the data available on their database. As they say themselves, meteorites can actually be pretty hard to confirm, things like magnetism, the composition of the rock, and the location it was found can all lend clues to experts who study meteorites.
Q: Are there any patterns you’ve detected from the map?
You first have to think that this is not a map of all meteorites that have hit Earth… it is just those that had been reported. Obviously a lot of meteorites fall in the ocean, we just don’t find them.
One thing I learned is that there is meteorite tourism — people travelling to far-off places to try to find meteorites. Deserts are naturally better for the tourists, because the meteorites leave bigger signs of their impact then say, a meteorite impact in the forest. Places like the Oman in the Arabic peninsula show up with tons of meteor strikes.
Q: What has been the response?
It has been pretty awesome! Totally unexpected. There are more than 170 news items around the world, it has gone really viral. The map has had more than 3 million views in less than a week. I have seen my work in newspapers all over the world, in languages like Vietnamese, Norwegian, Russian, [and] Japanese.