Massive Meteor Explodes Over Russia: Buildings Damaged, Hundreds Injured
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A meteor streaked across Russia´s early morning skies on Friday before violently exploding, sending a rain of debris onto the Earth below. The flash and boom shattered windows and meteor particles left damage in its wake, injuring more than 900 people in the Ural Mountains region.
Marina Mokvicheva, regional health minister in Chelyabinsk, the Russian city that had felt the brunt of the impact, told the Washington Post that 985 people have so far sought medical attention and 43 have been hospitalized.
The estimated 11-ton meteor wreaked havoc across at least six cities during its Friday morning descent. The fireball was seen by many and felt by countless more. A handful of witnesses were able to get video of the event as it unfolded.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he thanked God no large fragments fell on populated areas. One of the largest fragments landed in a lake near Chebarkul. Much of the impact from the explosion was felt in the nearby city of Chelyabinsk, 125 miles south of Yekaterinburg.
“It was quite extraordinary,” a Chelyabinsk resident told BBC News. “We saw a very bright light and then there was a kind of a track, white and yellow in the sky.”
“The explosion was so strong that some windows in our building and in the buildings that are across the road and in the city in general, the windows broke,” said the witness.
Thousands of rescue workers were dispatched immediately following the blast, which some initially believed was a bomb or missile striking the city.
Putin promised “immediate” aid for those affected by the strike, saying several schools had been damaged, and work was disrupted at industrial enterprises in the region. Many children were already in school when the explosion was heard at 9:20 a.m. (03:20 GMT). One video showed frightened school children screaming as windows shattered, littering the corridors and classrooms with broken glass.
Sergei Serskov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, told the British news agency that it felt like a “war zone” for a little while.
“I was in the office when suddenly I saw a really bright flash in the window in front of me,” he said. “Then I smelt fumes. I looked out the window and saw a huge line of smoke, like you get from a plane but many times bigger.”
“A few minutes later the window suddenly came open and there was a huge explosion, followed by lots of little explosions,” he explained.
A spokesperson for the Russian army said a crater about 20 feet wide had been found on the shore of the lake where the initial impact occurred.
The Associated Press received two separate reports from within Russia´s Emergency Ministry. One stated the event was part of a meteor shower, while another said it was a single meteorite.
The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) confirmed it was a single meteor that weighed an estimated 11 tons and entered the atmosphere at a speed of at least 33,000 mph. It believed the main meteor exploded about 18-32 miles above ground and the remaining fragments rained down over the Ural Mountains region.
An unconfirmed report in Russia Today said the meteor was intercepted by Russian air defense. However, the deputy prime minister said Russia has no technology capable of intercepting and destroying incoming meteors.
Although a coincidental encounter, the event could strike fear into those who are familiar with another event set to take place later this afternoon.
An asteroid known as 2012 DA14 is set to make a super-close flyby of Earth at around 2:24 p.m. EST today, a record close-approach for a large asteroid. While it is set to pass by closer than many satellites in geosynchronous orbit, experts said there is no danger of the 150-foot-wide object crashing into Earth this year. The asteroid is expected to pass by at a distance of 17,200 miles.
For those who think there may be a connection between this morning´s meteor and 2012 DA14, Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of the Astrophysics Research Center at Queen´s University Belfast, assured there is none.
“One reason is that 2012 DA14 is approaching Earth from the south, and this object hit in the northern hemisphere,” he told BBC News. “This is literally a cosmic coincidence, although a spectacular one.”
However, Friday morning´s meteor strike is reminiscent of another event that occurred in remote Siberia more than a hundred years earlier.
An asteroid roughly two-thirds the size of Rhode Island streaked across the skies early and exploded, destroying an area 820 square miles. The Tunguska Event of 1908, as it is known, felled some 80 million trees, leveling them outward from the blast´s center. Strangely, the impact explosion left no crater.
Click Here to read the latest blog on the Meteor strike from redOrbit’s own Lee Rannals.