Clean-Up Efforts, Concern And Conspiracy Theories In Wake Of Russian Meteor Explosion
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
As volunteers moved to repair, rebuild and recover following the meteor blast that injured nearly 1,200 people in Russia on Friday morning, the event caused some to spin wild conspiracy theories about the incident and others to raise concerns about the potential for other, similar occurrences in the future.
According to Reuters reporter Andrey Kuzmin, thousands of emergency workers set out Saturday in order to address the damage caused by the meteor, which had exploded over the Ural Mountains roughly 24 hours before. The explosion damaged buildings, shattered windows and caused shards of broken glass to rain down on residents of the region.
“Large numbers of volunteers came forward to help fix the damage caused by the explosion,” said Laura Mills of the Associated Press.
“For many, it’s been a reason to roll up their sleeves and get to work repairing the more than 4,000 buildings in the city and region where windows were shattered, or to provide other services,” she added. “More than 24,000 people, including volunteers, have mobilized in the region to cover windows, gather warm clothes and food, and make other relief efforts, the regional governor’s office said.”
On Saturday, Governor Mikhail Yurevich told the media the explosion, which reportedly was 20 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, caused an estimated $33 million in damage. Yurevich has also vowed to replace all broken windows in the icy Chelyabinsk region within one week’s time.
In the meantime, Mills said, the search for large fragments of the meteor was ongoing — and it is that lack of evidence that has led to some speculation the incident might not have been caused by a meteor after all.
“Divers searched a lake near the city of Chelyabinsk, where a hole several meters wide had opened in the ice, but had so far failed to find any large fragments,” the Telegraph reported on Saturday, adding search teams reported finding “small objects up to about 1 cm wide that might be fragments, but no larger pieces.
“The scarcity of evidence on the ground has fuelled [sic] scores of conspiracy theories over what caused the fireball and the huge shockwave that hit Chelyabinsk, which plays host to many defense industry plants,” the UK newspaper said. “Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky told reporters in Moscow it could have been ‘war-mongers’ in the United States… [while] a priest from near the explosion site called it an act of God.”
The incident has also caused some experts to call for improved measures for dealing with asteroids, meteorites, and other similar space objects that could pose a danger to us here on Earth.
“In terms of human casualties, Friday’s meteorite strike is the worst ever reported,” astronomy journalist Stuart Clark wrote in a column for The Guardian late last week. “Almost 1,000 are reported to have sought treatment after the fall. At least 34 of them were hospitalized, with two reported to be in intensive care. Before this there were only stories of a dog being killed in Egypt by a meteorite in 1911 and a boy being hit, but not seriously injured, by one in Uganda in 1992.
“Friday’s unexpected strike highlights the need for better searches for dangerous asteroids, and a global strategy to deal with any that are seen,” he added. “Astronomers feel confident that they know the whereabouts of every asteroid larger than 30 kilometers. Such space rocks have been the priority because they have the potential to cause global catastrophe and mass extinction events should they hit us. None are known to pose a threat.”
Smaller space objects? Well, that’s a different story, Clark said. Astronomers claim to know the whereabouts of at least 90 percent of those one kilometer in size, but only two percent of those approximately 50 meters big.
According to Clark, “There could be hundreds of thousands of these smaller asteroids waiting to be discovered. Were something of this size to strike the Earth, it would devastate an area the size of larger than London.”
He notes groups such as the European Space Agency (ESA) are developing survey telescopes capable of finding smaller asteroids, and international astronomers will be working with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to develop strategies for dealing with potentially dangerous objects, “Friday’s sudden strike shows… [that] asteroids that approach from ‘out of the Sun’ are virtually impossible to see. They are hidden from our sight by the glare until they smash into our atmosphere.”