Meteorite Strikes Central Russia, Up To 500 Injured
It’s not uncommon for meteorites to streak through the atmosphere and burn themselves out in the sky. It’s less common for one to actually make it to Earth, and yet that’s exactly what happened in Central Russia today:
MOSCOW (AP) — A meteor that scientists estimate weighed 10 tons (11 tons) streaked at supersonic speed over Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday, setting off blasts that injured some 500 people and frightened countless more.
The Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement that the meteor over the Chelyabinsk region entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph) and shattered about 30-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above ground.
The fall caused explosions that broke glass over a wide area. The Emergency Ministry says more than 500 people sought treatment after the blasts and that 34 of them were hospitalized.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people’s houses to check if they were OK,” said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, about 1500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow, the biggest city in the affected region.
“We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.
Another Chelyabinsk resident, Valya Kazakov, said some elderly women in his neighborhood started crying out that the world was ending.
Some fragments fell in a reservoir outside the town of Cherbakul, the regional governor’s office said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. It was not immediately clear if any people were struck by fragments.
The agency also cited military spokesman Yarslavl Roshupkin as saying that a six-meter-wide (20-foot-wide) crater was found in the same area which could be the result of fragments striking the ground.
Meteors typically cause sizeable sonic booms when they enter the atmosphere because they are traveling much faster than the speed of sound. Injuries on the scale reported Friday, however, are extraordinarily rare.
Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Kolesnikov said that about 600 square meters (6000 square feet) of a roof at a zinc factory had collapsed. There was no immediate clarification of whether the collapse was caused by meteorites or by a shock wave from one of the explosions.
Reports conflicted on what exactly happened in the clear skies. A spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry, Irina Rossius, told The Associated Press that there was a meteor shower, but another ministry spokeswoman, Elena Smirnikh, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was a single meteor.
Amateur video broadcast on Russian television showed an object speeding across the sky about 9:20 a.m. local time (0320 GMT), leaving a thick white contrail and an intense flash.
Donald Yeomans, manager of U.S. Near Earth Object Program in California, said he thought the event was probably “an exploding fireball event.”
“If the reports of ground damage can be verified, it might suggest an object whose original size was several meters in extent before entering the atmosphere, fragmenting and exploding due to the unequal pressure on the leading side vs. the trailing side (it pancaked and exploded),” Yeoman said in an email to The Associated Press.
This being the Internet Age, it wasn’t long before video was available all over the world, and much of it is really quite spectacular. Here’s one example:
And here’s another.
And check out the sonic boom this thing created:
Coincidentally, this happened on the same day that a 50 meter asteroid known as DA14 will pass within
70,000 17,000 miles of Earth, the closest any such object has passed since we started tracking larger asteroids that may pose a threat to the Earth. That passage will occur at approximately 2;24pm EST today and, while it will not be visible in North America, there will be a livestream available here. Scientists say that there is likely no connection between DA14 and the object that hit Russia today.
In the meantime, I suppose we should be glad that this much smaller rock landed in a remote part of Russia and not in the middle of a major metropolitan area.