Friday, February 15, 2013

Hundreds injured as meteor fireball screams across the sky in Russia

A fireball lit up the Russian sky, shocking onlookers and causing damage to buildings. Reports indicate it may have been caused by meteorites.'s Keva Andersen explains.

A huge meteorite flared through the skies over Russia's Chelyabinsk region early Friday, triggering a powerful shock wave that injured hundreds of people.

"Preliminary indications are that it was a meteorite [shower]," the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted an emergency official as saying. "We have information about a blast at 10,000-meter (32,800-foot) altitude."

The Associated Press quoted a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry, Vadim Kolesnikov, as saying that the fireball caused an explosion and sonic boom that broke windows in Chelyabinsk, 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of Moscow. Reuters cited figures from Russia's Emergencies Ministry saying that 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of those were hospitalized.

The astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City talks about the meteorite that hit the Ural Mountains area in Russia, saying such an event could happen "perhaps once a decade," and explaining that it was the shock wave as the meteorite entered the atmosphere and exploded that broke so much glass.

The meteor, which was reportedly 10 tons, cut a blazing ribbon across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake that could be seen 125 miles (200 kilometers) away in Yekaterinburg. The Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement that the space rock entered Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of at least 33,000 mph, according to the AP. Some authorities in Russia, however, have said that the event was a meteor shower, and not a single meteor.

The ministry said helicopter teams surveyed the area, looking for signs of damage and the remains of the meteorite. In a Web update, it reported that the shock wave caused the roof of a zinc factory's warehouse to collapse, but no fatalities were reported.
In Russia and around the world, observers marveled at the fireball and its aftermath. "There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before," Yuri Burenko, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry, told Reuters.

Multiple videos were posted from the scene. Several included the sound of a loud boom, followed by a cacophony of car alarms. One video showed the hurried evacuation of an office building in Chelyabinsk.

Meteor streaks over Siberia

Landing spot
A photo provided by the Russian Interior Ministry's Chelyabinsk regional branch shows people standing near a 26-foot-wide hole in the ice of Chebarkul Lake, reportedly created by a meteorite that fell to Earth on Feb. 15

"I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend," Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name, told Reuters. "Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shock wave that smashed windows."

The meteorite raced across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake that could be seen 125 miles (200 kilometers) away in Yekaterinburg. "I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg, told Reuters. "I felt like I was blinded by headlights."

News reports indicated that President Vladimir Putin, who was due to host Finance Ministry officials from the Group of 20 nations in Moscow, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were informed.

The arc of the fireball's trail can be seen in this Chelyabinsk video.

A YouTube video documents Friday's fireball, witnessed in the skies over Chelyabinsk.

Loud booms and alarms can be heard in this video from Chelyabinsk.

This video records the sound of an explosion and car alarms in the Chelyabinsk region.

The Chelyabinsk blast creates a sensation in this video.

RT reports on the meteor blast in Chelyabinsk.
The fireball reports spread just hours before a 150-foot-wide asteroid was due to make a close flyby, coming within 17,200 miles of Earth. It's unlikely that there's any connection between the fireball and the encounter asteroid, known as 2012 DA14. However, a bright flash and explosion in midair would be consistent with the atmospheric entry and breakup of a large meteoroid.

Fire in the sky
A meteor streaks across the sky of Russia’s Ural Mountains on Feb. 15, causing explosions and reportedly injuring hundreds of people.

If 2012 DA14 were to hit Earth, the scenario might play out in a similar way, but with a far more powerful impact.

In 1908, a massive explosion shook a remote region of Siberia and knocked down millions of trees over an 820-square-mile area. Experts concluded that the blast, known as the Tunguska event, was caused by the midair explosion of a 150-foot-wide asteroid falling to Earth.More about cosmic impacts:

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