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Meteorite rush begins as Russians find fragments

A meteor that exploded over Russia’s Ural mountains and sent fireballs blazing to earth has set off a rush to find fragments of the space rock which hunters hope could fetch thousands of dollars a piece.

Friday’s blast and ensuing shockwave shattered windows, injured almost 1,200 people and caused about $33 million (Rs 180 crore) worth of damage, said local authorities. It also started a ‘meteorite rush’ around the industrial city of Chelyabinsk, east of Moscow, where groups of people have started combing through the snow and ice.


Space rock: Pieces of porous black rock, reportedly fragments of the meteor that plunged over Russia and formed a six-metre wide crater in a nearby lake, are examined by scientists in Yekaterinburg. Pics/AFP

One amateur space enthusiast estimated chunks could be worth anything up to 66,000 roubles (Rs 1.2 lakh) per gram — more than 40 times the current cost of gold. “The price is hard to say yet ... The fewer meteorites that are recovered, the higher their price,” said Dmitry Kachkalin, a member of the Russian Society of Amateur Meteorite Lovers. Meteorites are parts of a meteor that have fallen to earth.

Scientists at the Urals Federal University were the first to announce a significant find — 53 small, stony, black objects around Lake Chebarkul, near Chelyabinsk, which tests confirmed were small meteorites.

The fragments were only 0.5 to 1 cm (0.2 to 0.4 inches) across but the scientists said larger pieces may have crashed into the lake, where a crater in the ice about eight-metre wide opened up after Friday’s explosion. “We just completed tests and confirm that the pieces of matter found by our experts around Lake Chebarkul are really meteorites,” said Viktor Grokhovsky, a scientist with the Urals Federal University and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“These are classified as ordinary chondrites, or stony meteorites, with an iron content of about 10 per cent,” he said. More than 20,000 people took part in search and clean-up operations at the weekend in and around Chelyabinsk. Many other people were in the area just hoping to find a meteorite after what was described by scientists as a once-in-a-century event.

Residents of a village near Chelyabinsk searched the snowy streets, collecting stones they hoped would prove to be the real thing. But not all were ready to sell. “I will keep it. Why sell it? I didn’t have a rich lifestyle before, so why start now?” said a woman in a pink woolen hat and winter jacket, clutching a small black pebble.

The Internet filled quickly with advertisements from eager hunters hoping to sell what they said were meteorites. The authenticity of the items was hard to ascertain. One seller of a large, silver-hued rock wrote in an advertisement on the portal Avito.ru: “Selling an unusual rock. It may be a piece of meteorite, it may be a bit of a UFO, it may be a piece of a rocket!”

1,200 The number of people who were injured when the meteor crashed in Russia 

Rs 180 cr The amount of damage caused by the meteor
 

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