A meteor that scientists estimate weighed 10 tonne streaked at supersonic speed over Russia’s Ural Mountains yesterday, setting off blasts that injured over 950 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 and shattered about 30-50 kilometre 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 hospitalised. “There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people’s houses to check if they were alright,” said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk.
“We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound,” he added. Another Chelyabinsk resident, Valya Kazakov, said some elderly women in his neighbourhood started crying out that the world was ending. Some fragments fell in a reservoir outside the town of Cherbakul. It was not immediately clear if any people were struck by fragments. Military spokesman Yarslavl Roshupkin was quoted as saying that a 6-metre wide crater was found in the same area which could be the result of fragments striking the ground.
Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Kolesnikov said that about 600 square metres of a roof at a zinc factory had collapsed. Donald Yeomans, manager of US 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 metres 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.
“It is far too early to provide estimates of the energy released or provide a reliable estimate of the original size,” Yeomans added. Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens.
Asteroid to narrowly miss Earth
On Friday, asteroid 2012 DA14 will make a close approach to our planet than any other known asteroid since systematic surveys of the sky began in the mid-1990s. Asteroid 2012 DA14 will race pass the Earth just 17,100 miles above our heads but still it poses no threat of running into the planet.
However its distance is closer than the geosynchronous satellites that orbit the Earth. According to Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Programme, an asteroid like 2012 DA14 flies this close on average only once every 40 years. Scientists said there was no link between the meteor strike in Russia and the asteroid.
Did you know?
A meteorite devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 200 km from the point of impact.