Meteor injures up to 1,000 in Russia
A Russian policeman works near an ice hole, said by the interior ministry department for Chelyabinsk region to be the point of impact of a meteor seen earlier in the Urals region. Photograph: Chelyabinsk region interior ministry/Reuters
Almost 1,000 people were injured when a meteor shot across the sky over the Ural mountains in central Russia this morning, sending a huge shockwave and fireballs crashing to Earth.
Residents on their way to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave, according to reports from the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.
The Russian Academy of Sciences said the meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000km/h and shattered about 50kms above ground, causing a massive sonic boom. The meteor raced across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 200km (125 miles) away in Yekaterinburg.
"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev (36), a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains. "I felt like I was blinded by headlights."
Chelyabinsk health chief Marina Moskvicheva, said 985 people in the city had asked for medical assistance. Forty-three were taken to hospital. No fatalities were reported.
Windows were shattered on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled. A loud noise, resembling an explosion, rang out at around 9.20am. The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the industrial city's centre.
"I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend," said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name. "Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shockwave that smashed windows."
A wall was damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but there was no environmental threat, a plant spokeswoman said.
Some fragments fell in a reservoir outside the town of Cherbakul, the regional governor’s office said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. The agency also cited military spokesman Yarslavl Roshupkin as saying that a six-metre-wide crater was found in the same area which could be the result of fragments striking the ground.
Reports conflicted on what exactly happened in the clear skies. A spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry, Irina Rossius, told The Associated Press that there was a meteor shower, but another ministry spokeswoman, Elena Smirnikh, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was a single meteor.
Amateur video broadcast on Russian television showed an object speeding across the sky, leaving a thick white contrail and an intense flash.
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),” he said. “It is far too early to provide estimates of the energy released or provide a reliable estimate of the original size."
Such incidents are rare. A meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 200km from the point of impact.
Russian news reports noted that the meteor hit less than a day before the asteroid 2012 DA14 is to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid - about 28,000km. But the European Space Agency, in a post on its Twitter account, said its experts had determined there was no connection.
Small pieces of space debris - usually parts of comets or asteroids - that are on a collision course with the Earth are called meteoroids. When meteoroids enter the Earth’s atmosphere they are called meteors. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but if they survive the frictional heating and strike the surface of the Earth they are called meteorites.
The dramatic events prompted an array of reactions from prominent Russian political figures. Prime .inister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at an economic forum in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, said the meteor could be a symbol for the forum, showing that “not only the economy is vulnerable, but the whole planet.” Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist leader noted for vehement statements, said “It’s not meteors falling, it’s the test of a new weapon by the Americans,” the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the incident showed the need for leading world powers to develop a system to intercept objects falling from space.
“At the moment, neither we nor the Americans have such technologies” to shoot down meteors or asteroids, he said, according to the Interfax news agency.