Russia’s Urals region has been rocked by a meteorite explosion in the stratosphere. The impact wave damaged several buildings, and blew out thousands of windows amid frigid winter weather. Hundreds have sought medical attention for minor injuries.

Eyewitness accounts of the meteorite phenomenon, handpicked by RT.

Around 950 people have sought medical attention in Chelyabinsk alone because of the disaster, the region’s governor Mikhail Yurevich told RIA Novosti. Over 110 of them have been hospitalized and two of them are in heavy condition. Among the injured there are 159 children, Emergency ministry reported.

Army units found three meteorite debris impact sites, two of which are in an area near Chebarkul Lake, west of Chelyabinsk. The third site was found some 80 kilometers further to the northwest, near the town of Zlatoust. One of the fragments that struck near Chebarkul left a crater six meters in diameter.

Servicemembers from the tank brigade that found the crater have confirmed that background radiation levels at the site are normal.

A hole in Chebarkul Lake made by meteorite debris. Photo by Chebarkul town head Andrey Orlov.
A hole in Chebarkul Lake made by meteorite debris. Photo by Chebarkul town head Andrey Orlov
Police officers, environmentalists and EMERCOM experts at the site of a meteorite hit in the Chelyabinsk Region. Small 0.5-1 cm pieces of black matter resembling rock were found around the ice hole caused by the meteorite. Photo courtesy of the press service of the Interior Ministry′s Main Directorate for the Chelyabinsk Region.(RIA Novosti)
Police officers, environmentalists and EMERCOM experts at the site of a meteorite hit in the Chelyabinsk Region. Small 0.5-1 cm pieces of black matter resembling rock were found around the ice hole caused by the meteorite. Photo courtesy of the press service of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for the Chelyabinsk Region.(RIA Novosti)

Experts working at the site of the impact told Lifenews tabloid that the fragment is most likely solid, and consists of rock and iron.

A local fisherman told police he found a large hole in the lake’s ice, which could be a result of a meteorite impact. The site was immediately sealed off by police, a search team is now waiting for divers to arrive and explore the bottom of the lake.

Samples of water taken from the lake have not revealed any excessive radioactivity or foreign material.

Weather sattelite Meteosat 10 has taken an image of the meteriote shortly after entering the atmosphere.(Copyright 2013 © EUMETSAT)
Weather sattelite Meteosat 10 has taken an image of the meteriote shortly after entering the atmosphere.(Copyright 2013 © EUMETSAT)

Russian space agency Roskosmos has confirmed the object that crashed in the Chelyabinsk region is a meteorite:

“According to preliminary estimates, this space object is of non-technogenic origin and qualifies as a meteorite. It was moving at a low trajectory with a speed of about 30 km/s.”

According to estimates by the Russian Academy of Sciences, the space object weighed about 10 tons before entering Earth’s atmosphere.

­A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from space objects such as asteroids or comets, ranging in size from tiny to gigantic.

When a meteorite falls on Earth, passing through the atmosphere causes it to heat up and emit a trail of light, forming a fireball known as a meteor, or shooting or falling star.

A bright flash was seen in the Chelyabinsk, Tyumen and Sverdlovsk regions, Russia’s Republic of Bashkiria and in northern Kazakhstan.

The Russian army has joined the rescue operation. Radiation, chemical and biological protection units have been put on high alert. Since the explosion occurred several kilometers above the Earth, a large ground area must be thoroughly checked for radiation and other threats.

According to preliminary reports, the worst damage on the ground in Chelyabinsk was at a zinc factory, the walls and roof of which were partially destroyed by an impact wave. The city’s Internet and mobile service were reportedly interrupted because of the damage inflicted near the factory.

Chelyabinsk administration’s website said nearly 3,000 buildings were damaged to varying extents by the meteor shower in the city, including 34 medical facilities and 361 schools and kindergartens. The total amount of window glass shattered amounts to 100,000 square meters, the site said, citing city administration head Sergey Davydov. The ministry also said that no local power stations or civil aircraft were damaged by the meteorite shower, and that “all flights proceed according to schedule.”

Buildings were left without gas because facilities in the city had also been damaged, an Emergency Ministry spokesperson said, according to Russia 24 news channel.

The Emergency Ministry reported that 20,000 rescue workers are operating in the region. Three aircraft were deployed to survey the area and locate other possible impact locations.

The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on February 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Oleg Kargopolov)
The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on February 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Oleg Kargopolov)

The regional Emergency Ministry denied  previous unconfirmed reports by local media that the meteorite was shot by  the military air defenses.

The local newspaper Znak reported the meteorite was intercepted by an air defense unit at the Urzhumka settlement near Chelyabinsk. Quoting a source in the military, it wrote a missile salvo blew the meteorite to pieces at an altitude of 20 kilometers.

Regnum news agency quoted a military source who claimed that the vapor condensation trail of the meteorite speaks to the fact that the meteorite was intercepted by air defenses.

Witnesses said the explosion was so loud that it seemed like an earthquake and thunder had struck at the same time, and that there were huge trails of smoke across the sky. Others reported seeing burning objects fall to earth.

A spokesperson for the Urals regional Emergency Ministry center claimed it sent out a mass SMS warning residents about a possible meteorite shower. However, eyewitnesses said they either never received it, or got the message after the explosion had occurred. The Emergency Ministry has since denied sending out the SMS warning, and said the spokesperson that spread the false information “will be fired.”

Classes for all Chelyabinsk schools have been canceled, mostly due to broken windows. Institute students have been dismissed until next Monday. Authorities also ordered all kindergartens with broken windows to return children to their families.

Police in the Chelyabinsk region are reportedly on high alert, and have begun ‘Operation Fortress’ in order to protect vital infrastructure.

Office buildings in downtown Chelyabinsk have been evacuated. An emergency message published on the website of the Chelyabinsk regional authority urged residents to pick up their children from school and remain at home if possible.

Those in Chelyabinsk who had their windows smashed are scrambling to cover the openings with anything available – the temperature in the city is currently -6°C.

Chelyabinsk regional governor Mikhail Yurevich said that preserving the city’s central heating system is authorities’ primary goal.

“Do not panic, this is an ordinary situation we can manage in a couple of days,” the governor said in and address to city residents.

Background radiation levels in Chelyabinsk remain unchanged, the Emergency Ministry reported.

Local zinc factory was damaged the severest, some of its walls collapsing (Photo from Twitter.com user @TimurKhorev)
Local zinc factory was damaged the severest, some of its walls collapsing (Photo from Twitter.com user @TimurKhorev)

Screenshot from YouTube user Gregor Grimm
Screenshot from YouTube user Gregor Grimm

Residents of the town of Emanzhilinsk, some 50 kilometers from Chelyabinsk, said they saw a flying object that suddenly burst into flames, broke apart and fell to earth, and that a black cloud had been seen hanging above the town. Witnesses in Chelyabinsk said the city’s air smells like gunpowder.

Screenshot from YouTube user Gregor Grimm
Screenshot from YouTube user Gregor Grimm

Many locals reported that the explosion rattled their houses and smashed windows. “This explosion, my ears popped, windows were smashed… phone doesn’t work,” Evgeniya Gabun wrote on Twitter.

“My window smashed, I am all shaking! Everybody says that a plane crashed,” Twitter user Katya Grechannikova reported.

“My windows were not smashed, but I first thought that my house is being dismantled, then I thought it was a UFO, and my eventual thought was an earthquake,” Bukreeva Olga wrote on Twitter.

The Mayak nuclear complex near the town of Ozersk was not affected by the incident, according to reports. Mayak, one of the world’s biggest nuclear facilities that used to house plutonium production reactors and a reprocessing plant, is located 72 kilometers northwest of Chelyabinsk.

NASA scientists said that the incident is not connected to  the approach of 2012 DA14, which measures 45 to 95 meters in diameter and will be passing by Earth tonight at around 19:25 GMT, at the record close distance of 27,000 kilometers.

Photo from Twitter.com user @varlamov
Photo from Twitter.com user @varlamov

An aerial meteorite explosion has wreaked havoc in Russia’s Urals. The blast caused widespread panic, damaged buildings, blew out thousands of windows and lead hundreds to seek medical attention for minor injuries.

­The incident was caused by a bolide, officials said. Multiple dashboard videos appeared online, showing huge fireballs flying over buildings and exploding with a strong blast as the meteriote broke into pieces mid-air. A local zinc factory was the worst-hit, with some of its walls collapsed.

‘Shock and frustration’: Locals report on meteorite crash in Russian Urals

­16:35 GMT: The Emergency Ministry has since denied sending out SMS warnings about the meteor shower in the Chelyabinsk region. The ministry added that informing residents started after the incident and the spokesperson who spread the false information on the incident was fired.

16:19 GMT: The fireball that hit Russia’s Urals is the largest rock to strike the planet since 1908, Nature Magazine says. The blast was even more powerful than North Korea’s recent nuclear test, added the UK journal. Unlike the Russian Academy of Science, it estimated that the mass of the fireball was around 40 tons before it entered the atmosphere. Russian scientists put the mass at 10 tons.

­15:55 GMT: Two hockey matches in the city of Chelyabinsk were cancelled after a wall at the city’s ice arena was damaged by a piece of meteorite.

­15:42 GMT: NASA said that the Chelyabinsk fireball had nothing to do with the approaching 2012 DA14 asteroid, as some scientists had previously suggested.

The trajectory of the Russian meteorite was significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14, making it a completely unrelated object,” the space agency said on its website. “In videos of the meteor, it is seen to pass from left to right in front of the rising sun, which means it was traveling from north to south. Asteroid DA14’s trajectory is in the opposite direction, from south to north.

15:28 GMT: The Russian Academy of Science now estimates the meteorite had a mass of around 10 tons before it entered Earth’s atmosphere, and began disintegrating at an altitude of between 30 and 50 kilometers.

15:01 GMT: Around 1,000 people have sustained injuries in Chelyabinsk due to the meteorite strike, says the Emergencies Ministry. 159 of them are children.

13:20 GMT: The number of people injured in the meteorite blast has risen to 950, Governor of Chelyabinsk Region Mikhail Yurevitch said.

13:10 GMT: Roscosmos said they did not track the meteorite that fell near Chelyabinsk. “Our ground facilities and, as I understand, those abroad too did not the monitor this celestial body,” the agency spokesman said.

13:02 GMT: Nearly 3,000 buildings in Chelyabinsk were damaged to varying extents by the meteor shower, including 34 medical facilities and 361 schools and kindergartens, the city administration’s website reported. The total amount of window glass shattered amounts to 100,000 square meters, the site said, citing city administration head Sergey Davydov.

12:52 GMT: The meteorite’s combustion products won’t stay in the atmosphere for long, and will soon come down with the rain, Russian scientists said. The 50-ton meteorite is believed to have caused no radioactive or chemical pollution.

12:49 GMT: There’s practically “no chance” such incident could happen in the region again, the Russian Academy of Sciences said. Roshydromet monitoring systems have detected flybys of several meteorites overnight and in the morning.

A hole in Chebarkul Lake made by meteorite debris. Photo by Chebarkul town head Andrey Orlov.
A hole in Chebarkul Lake made by meteorite debris. Photo by Chebarkul town head Andrey Orlov.

­12:38 GMT: First images of the crater from the meteorite fall appear online.

­12:24 GMT: The military had nothing to do with the aerial meteorite explosion, the Urals Emergency Ministry said: “Russia’s defense ministry took no action connected to the incident. No aircrafts has been registered in the air at the given period of time.” Earlier, there were unconfirmed reports that the military had shot down the falling meteorite, shattering it into pieces.

­12:21 GMT: Vladimir Puchkov, the head of the Russian Emergency Ministry, is flying to Chelyabinsk to hold an emergency meeting with regional governor Mikhail Yurevich concerning the meteor shower incident, which injured over 725 people.

Weather sattelite Meteosat 10 has taken an image of the meteriote shortly after entering the atmosphere.(Copyright 2013 © EUMETSAT)
Weather sattelite Meteosat 10 has taken an image of the meteriote shortly after entering the atmosphere.(Copyright 2013 © EUMETSAT)

­12:05 GMT: Six cities and four small towns saw damage from the air blast produced by the meteorite, mostly shattered windows, Itar-Tass reported, citing police officials.

­12:01 GMT: The site where the meteorite is believed to have fallen has been closed off by military units wearing special protective suits.

­12:00 GMT: Three municipalities of the Chelyabinsk region have declared a state of emergency. “8 out of 43 municipalities have considerably suffered from the fall of space debris, 3 are in state of emergency,” Emergency Ministry spokesperson Igor Murog said.

11:42 GMT: A phone hotline has been launched for Chelyabinsk residents seeking psychological care.

­11:40 GMT: Two people injured in the meteorite incident are in intensive care, RIA Novosti reported, citing Chelyabinsk officials.

­11:36 GMT: Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the country’s Emergency Ministry to evaluate the damage caused by the meteorite incident, and to provide victims with all necessary aid. He said that the “astronomic aspect of the incident” is of particular interest, because analysis of the Chelyabinsk meteorite fall could help prevent future such incidents and alert residents in advance.

­11:33 GMT: At least 297 apartment buildings were damaged from the meteorite fall in the Chelyabinsk region, an Emergency Ministry spokesperson told Russia 24 TV.

11:30 GMT: Parts of the Chelyabinsk meteorite are ‘on sale’ on some Russian websites. “Will sell meteorite pieces cheap, photos later,” an announcement read.

­11:19 GMT: The Russian military has explored a meteorite crater that is reportedly 6 meters in diameter; normal radiation levels were detected at the site.

­11:12 GMT: Nearly 725 people have requested medical assistance in regions hit by the meteor shower.

­11:10 GMT: The meteorite blast in the Chelyabinsk region may be connected to the 2012DA14 asteroid, which will pass close to Earth tonight, Tatyana Borisevich from Pulkovo Observatory told Itar-Tass.

­11:00 GMT: Gas has been shut off in hundreds of Chelyabinsk homes after a security system shut it down due to the explosion.

­10:55 GMT: The meteorite explosion sent animals in the Chelyabinsk zoo into a panic. Wolves and horses were reportedly the most agitated, but have now been calmed.

­10:46 GMT: The meteorite has stirred up the Twitter community, becoming one of the most-discussed topics and prompting the creation of several parody accounts. More than 10 different Twitter accounts have been already registered for the meteorite that hit the Russian Urals. “So where can I go here on Friday night? Except for the factory?” one of the accounts said.

People look at damage to a shop following sightings of a falling object in the sky in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk February 15, 2013. A powerful blast rocked the Russian region of the Urals early on Friday with bright objects, identified as possible meteorites, falling from the sky, emergency officials said.(Reuters / Andrei Kuzmin)
People look at damage to a shop following sightings of a falling object in the sky in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk February 15, 2013. A powerful blast rocked the Russian region of the Urals early on Friday with bright objects, identified as possible meteorites, falling from the sky, emergency officials said.(Reuters / Andrei Kuzmin)

­

Another Tunguska event?

The incident in Chelyabinsk bears a strong resemblance to the 1908 Tunguska event – an exceptionally powerful explosion in Siberia believed to have been caused by a fragment of a comet or meteor.

According to estimates, the energy of the Tunguska blast may have been as high as 50 megatons of TNT, equal to a nuclear explosion. Some 80 million trees were leveled over a 2,000-square-kilometer area. The Tunguska blast remains one of the most mysterious events in history, prompting a wide array of hypotheses on its cause, including a black hole passing through Earth and the wreck of an alien spacecraft.

It is believed that if the Tunguska event had happened 4 hours later, due to the rotation of the Earth it would have completely destroyed the city of Vyborg and significantly damaged St. Petersburg.

When a similar, though less powerful, unexplained explosion happened in Brazil in 1930, it was named the ‘Brazilian Tunguska.’ The Tunguska event also prompted debate and research into preventing or mitigating asteroid impacts.

Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Still from YouTube video/fed potapow
Photo from Twitter.com user @znak_com
Photo from Twitter.com user @znak_com
Photo from Twitter.com user @Frolov_kgn Alexander
Photo from Twitter.com user @Frolov_kgn Alexander
Map
Map

Meteorite hits central Russia

By Natalia Shurmina and Andrey Kuzmin | Reuters


More than 500 people were injured when a meteorite shot across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to Earth, shattering windows and damaging buildings.

People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.

A fireball blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 200 km (125 miles) away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phone networks were interrupted.

“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,” he said.

No fatalities were reported but 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.

A local ministry official said such incidents were extremely rare and Friday’s events might have been linked to an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool due to pass Earth at a distance of 27,520 km (17,100 miles) but this was not confirmed.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said the meteorite was travelling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per second and that such events were hard to predict. The Interior Ministry said the meteorite explosion had caused a sonic boom.

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of those were kept in hospital. Search groups were set up to look for the remains of the meteorite.

“There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before,” said Yuri Burenko, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry.

WINDOWS BREAK, FRAMES BUCKLE

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 9.20 a.m. (12:20 a.m. ET). The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the industrial city’s center.

“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 a spokeswoman said there was no environmental threat.

Although such events are rare, a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250 miles) in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 200 km (125 miles) from the point of impact.

The Emergencies Ministry described Friday’s events as a “meteor shower in the form of fireballs” and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.

Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens. They said what sounded like a blast had been heard at an altitude of 10,000 meters (32,800 feet).

The U.S. space agency NASA has said an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 meters in diameter, would have an encounter with Earth closer than any asteroid since scientists began routinely monitoring them about 15 years ago.

Television, weather and communications satellites fly about 500 miles higher. The moon is 14 times farther away.

What happened in Tunguska in 1908?

EarthSky


Photo of an air burst, in this case from a U.S. Navy submarine-launched Tomamhawk cruise missile. An air burst from an incoming comet or asteroid is thought to have flattened trees in Siberia in 1908. More about this image at Wikimedia Commons

Flattened trees at site of Tunguska event. This image is from 1927, when Russian scientists were finally able to get to the scene. Photograph from the Soviet Academy of Science 1927 expedition led by Leonid Kulik.

The epicenter of the Tunguska explosion as photographed in 2008. Via Wikimedia Commons.

On June 30, 1908, in a remote part of Russia, a fireball was seen streaking across the daytime sky. Within moments, something exploded in the atmosphere above Siberia’s Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.

This event – now widely known as the Tunguska event – is believed to have been caused by an incoming meteor or comet, which never actually struck Earth but instead exploded in the atmosphere, causing what is known as an air burst, three to six miles (5–10 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.

The explosion released enough energy to kill reindeer and flatten trees for many kilometers around the blast site. But no crater was ever found.

At the time, it was difficult to reach this remote part of Siberia. It wasn’t until 1927 that Leonid Kulik led the first Soviet research expedition to investigate the Tunguska event. He made a initial trip to the region, interviewed local witnesses and explored the region where the trees had been felled. He became convinced that they were all turned with their roots to the center. He did not find any meteorite fragments, and he did not find a meteorite crater.

Over the years, scientists and others concocted fabulous explanations for the Tunguska explosion. Some were pretty wild – such as the encounter of Earth with an alien spacecraft, or a mini-black-hole, or a particle of antimatter.

The truth is much more ordinary. In all likelihood, a small icy comet or stony asteroid collided with Earth’s atmosphere on June 30, 1908. If it were an asteroid, it might have been about a third as big as a football field – moving at about 15 kilometers (10 miles) per second.

Because the explosion took place so long ago, we might never know for certain whether it was an asteroid or comet. But in recent decades astronomers have come to take the possibility of comet and asteroid impacts more seriously. They now have regular observing programs to watch for Near-Earth Objects, as they’re called. They also meet regularly to discuss what might happen if we did find an object on a collision course with Earth.


Map showing the approximate location of the Tunguska event of 1908.

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