RARE SHOOTING STAR: METEORITE EXPLODES OVER RUSSIA, MORE THAN 1,000 INJURED
Trail of a meteorite crossing the early morning sky above the city of Kamensk-Uralsky February 15, 2013, is seen in this still image taken from video footage from a dashboard journey recorder and obtained by REUTERS TV. REUTERS/Amateur video via Reuters TV
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA, FEBRUARY 18, 2013 (REUTERS) By Andrey Kuzmin - A meteorite streaked across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, raining fireballs over a vast area and causing a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured 1,200 people.
People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt the shock wave, according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.
The fireball, travelling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per second according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, had blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail that could be seen as far as 200 km (125 miles) away.
Car alarms went off, thousands of windows shattered and mobile phone networks were disrupted. The Interior Ministry said the meteorite explosion, a very rare spectacle, also unleashed a sonic boom.
"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it were day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.
"I felt like I was blinded by headlights."
The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, in this still image taken from video shot on February 15, 2013. Credit: REUTERS/OOO Spetszakaz
The meteorite, which weighed about 10 metric tons and may have been made of iron, entered Earth's atmosphere and broke apart 30-50 km (19-31 miles) above ground, according to Russia's Academy of Sciences.
The energy released when it entered the Earth's atmosphere was equivalent to a few kilotonnes, the academy said, the power of a small atomic weapon exploding.
No deaths were reported but the Emergencies Ministry said 20,000 rescue and clean-up workers were sent to the region after President Vladimir Putin told Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov to ease the disruption and help the victims.
The Interior Ministry said about 1,200 people had been injured, at least 200 of them children, and most from shards of glass.
WINDOWS BLOWN OUT
Damage caused after a meteorite passed above the Urals city of Chelyabinsk February 15, 2013. Credit: REUTERS/www.chelyabinsk.ru/Handout
The early-morning blast and ensuing shock wave blew out windows on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street, buckled some shop fronts, rattled apartment buildings in the city center and blew out windows.
"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 shock wave that smashed windows."
A wall and roof were badly damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but a spokeswoman said no environmental threat resulted.
One piece of meteorite broke through the ice the Cherbakul Lake near Chelyabinsk, leaving a hole several meters (yards) wide.
The region has long been a hub for the Russian military and defense industry, and it is often the site where artillery shells are decommissioned.
A local Emergencies Ministry official said meteorite storms were extremely rare and Friday's incident may have been connected with an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool that was due to pass Earth.
But an astronomer at Russia's Academy of Sciences, Sergei Barabanov, cast doubt on that report and the European Space Agency said its experts had confirmed there was no link.
The regional governor in Chelyabinsk said the meteorite shower had caused more than $30 million in damage, and the Emergencies Ministry said 300 buildings had been affected.
Despite warnings not to approach any unidentified objects, some enterprising locals were hoping to cash in.
"Selling meteorite that fell on Chelyabinsk!" one prospective seller, Vladimir, said on a popular Russian auction website. He attached a picture of a black piece of stone that on Friday afternoon was priced at 1,488 roubles ($49.46).
The Emergencies Ministry described Friday's events as a "meteorite shower in the form of fireballs" and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.
The first footage was shot by car dashboard video cameras and soon went viral.
Russians also quickly made fun at the event on the Internet. A photo montage showed Putin riding the meteorite and Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovksy said in jest it was really a new weapon being tested by the United States.
Experts drew comparisons with an incident in 1908, when a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250 miles) in Siberia, breaking windows as far as 200 km (125 miles) from the point of impact.
Simon Goodwin, an astrophysics expert from Britain's University of Sheffield, said that roughly 1,000 to 10,000 metric tons of material rained down from space towards the earth every day, but most burned up in the atmosphere.
"While events this big are rare, an impact that could cause damage and death could happen every century or so. Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop impacts."
The meteorite struck just as an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 m in diameter, was due to pass closer to Earth - at a distance of 27,520 km (17,100 miles) - than any other known object of its size since scientists began routinely monitoring asteroids about 15 years ago.
($1 = 30.0877 Russian roubles)
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; Writing by Timothy Heritage and Thomas Grove; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Michael Roddy)
METEORITE: Fireball 1 by skulpt - deviantart image
A meteor is a bright streak of light in the sky (a "shooting star" or a "falling star") produced by the entry of a small meteoroid into the Earth's atmosphere.
If you have a dark clear sky you will probably see a few per hour on an average night; during one of the annualmeteor showers you may see as many as 100/hour.
Very bright meteors are known as fireballs; if you see one please report it. Meteor showers can be very impressive. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen, To and fro they were hurried about! And to and fro, and in and out, The wan stars danced between And the coming wind did roar more loud, And the sails did sigh like sedge; And the rain poured down from one black cloud; The Moon was at its edge may have been inspired by the Leonid meteor shower that he witnessed in 1797. Meteorites are bits of the solar system that have fallen to the Earth. Most come from asteroids, including few are believed to have come specifically from 4 Vesta; a few probably come from comets.
A small number of meteorites have been shown to be of Lunar (23 finds) or Martian (22) origin.
One of the Martian meteorites, known as ALH84001 (left), is believed to show evidence of early life on Mars.
Though meteorites may appear to be just boring rocks, they are extremely important in that we can analyze them carefully in our labs. Aside from the few kilos of moon rocks brought back by the Apollo and Luna missions, meteorites are our only material evidence of the universe beyond the Earth.
A "fall" means the meteorite was witnessed by someone as it fell from the sky.
A "find" means the meteorite was not witnessed and the meteorite was found after the fact. About 33% of the meteorites are witnessed falls. The following table is from a book by Vagn F. Buchwald.
Included are all known meteorites (4660 in all, weighing a total of 494625 kg) in the period 1740-1990 (excluding meteorites found in Antarctica).
A very large number of meteoroids enter the Earth's atmosphere each day amounting to more than a hundred tons of material. But they are almost all very small, just a few milligrams each. Only the largest ones ever reach the surface to become meteorites. The largest found meteorite (Hoba, in Namibia) weighs 60 tons.
The average meteoroid enters the atmosphere at between 10 and 70 km/sec. But all but the very largest are quickly decelerated to a few hundred km/hour by atmospheric friction and hit the Earth's surface with very little fanfare. However meteoroids larger than a few hundred tons are slowed very little; only these large (and fortunately rare) ones make craters.
A good example of what happens when a small asteroid hits the Earth isBarringer Crater (a.k.a. Meteor Crater) near Winslow, Arizona. It was formed about 50,000 years ago by an iron meteor about 30-50 meters in diameter. The crater is 1200 meters in diameter and 200 meters deep. About 120 impact craters have been identified on the Earth, so far (see below).
A more recent impact occurred in 1908 in a remote uninhabited region of western Siberia known as Tunguska. The impactor was about 60 meters in diameter and probably consisting of many loosely bound pieces.
In contrast to the Barringer Crater event, the Tunguska object completely disintegrated before hitting the ground and so no crater was formed. Nevertheless, all the trees were flattened in an area 50 kilometers across. The sound of the explosion was heard half-way around the world in London.
There are probably at least 1000 asteroids larger than 1 km in diameter that cross the orbit of Earth. One of these hits the Earth about once in a million years or so on the average. Larger ones are less numerous and impacts are less frequent, but they do sometimes happen and with disastrous consequences.
The impact of a comet or asteroid about the size of Hephaistos or SL9 hitting the Earth was probably responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It left a 180 km crater now buried below the jungle near Chicxulub in the Yucatan Peninsula (right).
Calculations based on the observed number of asteroids suggest that we should expect about 3 craters 10 km or more across to be formed on the Earth every million years. This is in good agreement with the geologic record. It is more difficult to compute the frequency of larger impacts like Chicxulub but once per 100 million years seems like a reasonable guess.
Data from 'The Impact Hazard', by Morrison, Chapman and Slovic, published in Hazards due to Comets and Asteroids More recent studies indicate a slightly lower frequency.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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