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Meteorite Boom Injures a Thousand in Russia

Shockwaves from a meteor caused damage to buildings in central Russia, hurting at least a thousand people on Friday, according to news reports.

More than 200 children were among those injured in the Chelyabinsk region, Russia’s Interior Ministry told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

“Verified information indicates that this was one meteorite which burned up as it approached Earth and disintegrated into smaller pieces,” said Elena Smirnykh, deputy head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry press office, according to RIA Novosti. Warning that there could be a meteor shower, Russian authorities have cancelled school and told people to stay inside.

The meteor was likely moving at a speed in tens of kilometers a second, resulting in a “very, very violent event” that planetary scientist Marc Fries likened to “firing a rifle bullet into a swimming pool.”

The object’s size is still unknown, although some scientists suspect it may have been car-size.

On social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, video from central Russia showed a large ball of white streaking across the sky before crashing to Earth, appearing to send out a cloud of white light. Twitter lit up with news of the meteorite, with #RussianMeteor, #Chelyabinsk, and #meteor all trending on Friday morning.

“You can see in the videos that it glows brightly—it’s actually hotter than the melting point of stone at that point,” Fries, a research associate in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, said on Smithsonian’s website.

Meteorites this size are relatively rare, occurring about once a decade, he noted.

This video uploaded to YouTube contains the explosive sound of the meteorite’s shock wave:

Russia’s Internet and airwaves on Friday were swirling with rumors that the falling debris was evidence of an American weapons test.

In this frame grab made from a video done with a dashboard camera, on a highway from Kostanai, Kazakhstan, to Chelyabinsk region, Russia, provided by Nasha Gazeta newspaper, on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 a meteorite contrail is seen. A meteor streaked across the sky of Russias Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and reportedly injuring around 100 people, including many hurt by broken glass. Photograph by Nasha Gazeta, AP

In this frame grab made from a video done with a dashboard camera, on a highway from Kostanai, Kazakhstan, to Chelyabinsk region, Russia, provided by Nasha Gazeta newspaper, on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 a meteorite contrail is seen. A meteor streaked across the sky of Russias Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and reportedly injuring around a thousand people, including many hurt by broken glass. Photograph by Nasha Gazeta, AP

What’s a Meteorite?

There are hundreds of thousands of asteroids roaming our solar system that are the size of the Russian meteorite, noted Tim Swindle, director of the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

“What’s going on is you have this rock that’s happily orbiting the sun—from its point of view this morning a planet ran into it.”

At that moment, the asteroid slammed into our atmosphere at 10 or 20 times the speed of sound—producing a sonic boom and becoming what’s called a meteor. The impact—like hitting a wall—causes air friction that heats the meteor’s surface, shedding melted material and sometimes breaking into smaller pieces.

Any resulting pieces that make it to the ground are called meteorites. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, fall into the ocean, or crash into vast, uninhabited deserts, but at least every month or two there are eyewitness reports of fragments falling from the sky, Swindle said.

The number of injuries—most of them not thought to be serious, according to CNN—is the highest in recorded history due to a meteorite, according to Michael D. Reynolds, adjunct astronomy professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville and author of the book Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites.

The last and only known incident in which a meteorite injured a person occurred in 1954 in Sylacauga, Alabama, when Ann Elizabeth Hodges was hit by a meteorite that crashed through her living room.

Meteorite hunters are likely headed to Russia this second, Reynolds and Swindle both noted—even though most of them are currently at a gem and mineral show taking place in Tucson. “A lot of tickets will be purchased to Moscow,” Swindle said.

Though it’s unclear how many pieces of the Russian meteorite ended up on the ground, Russian law allows any people who find meteorites to keep them.

Asteroid Flyby Today

The news came on the same day that an asteroid is expected to make its closest brush by Earth for an object of its size since astronomers started keeping records.

However, the Russian meteorite’s trajectory was “significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14, making it a completely unrelated object,” according to NASA.

“Information is still being collected about the Russian meteorite, and analysis is preliminary at this point. 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,” the agency said.

(See: Asteroid to Make Closest Flyby in History.)

The office-building sized chunk of rock, known as 2012 DA14, will come closer to Earth than most orbiting communication and weather satellites, according to NASA.

Visible to some skywatchers in the Eastern Hemisphere, the asteroid will be at its closest at 19:24 UTC (2:24 p.m. EST/11:24 a.m. PST) as it flies over the eastern Indian Ocean.

Overall, planetary scientists are keeping a close eye on any asteroid big enough to cause widespread death and destruction on the scale that likely wiped out the dinosaurs, the University of Arizona’s Swindle said.

“We are the first species to be able to see these coming.”

—Dan Gilgoff, Andrew Fazekas, and Jeffrey Tayler contributed reporting.

See More on Friday’s Meteor Shower in Russia

Video: Predicting Meteorite Impacts
Top 5 Videos of Russian Mega-Meteor
Pictures: Giant Meteorite Hits Russia
From Our Vault: 1897 Meteorite Recovery

Comments

  1. Christine Dell'Amore
    June 30, 12:52 pm

    Thanks Cody. That caption was written early during this event, and at the time there were 100 injuries. I’ll update it. —Christine

  2. Cody
    USA
    June 30, 2:01 am

    So the title says thousands and the print under the pictures says hundreds… Another instance of how many clicks can I get on a story by lying. What has the internet come to :(

  3. Shoreline Star
    Anywhere USA
    March 7, 2013, 8:57 pm

    About 15 yrs ago a dear friend told me in a very matter of fact manner that in 2028 our earth will be about smack dab in the middle of a large asteroid field. This person had worked for 30 yrs in several fields related to and directly involved in space sciences and the like before retirement. this persons credentials and knowledge are unquestionably straightforth and I have absolutely no reason to believe otherwise. However the good news is the asteroids are about 300,000 miles apart ,but the bad news is that is not guaranteed safe passage through the field. We may very well get one or more bumps and scrapes along the way. But to add to this I strongly feel that we will start experiencing more frequent near earth objects and possibly some hits on our approach to this center of field.I must say we have had a number of close calls and luck has been on our side but luck can only take us so far. As far as how do we protect ourselves from these objects? I have pondered this question for a number of years and quite frankly there is not a practical way nor a realistic way to combat every rock that we may encounter on a direct course to earth. The closest thing I can say that would possibly be realistic,practical and deployable would be to set up concentric rings of space based hunter killer satellites equipped with high intensity lasers that could quickly maneuver into a zone as a wolfpack squadron and intercept the incoming object focusing there lasers on it super heating it in hopes of getting it hot enough to explode before it reaches our atmosphere,at least it will be pre heated if it doesnt,… and will probably explode anyway after even more heat from entering our atmosphere if it reaches the atmosphere. its better than a full impact by any measure.President Reagan had these hunter killers in orbit for a different reason in the past there is no reason newer better ones wont work for this task at hand.Give me your thoughts on this.Thank You Everyone! please excuse me for now im going to the kitchen to make some nice peanut butter and jam sandwiches with a tall glass of cold milk and watch cartoons lol…Sincerely,Shoreline Star

  4. Nadia
    Siberia. Omsk
    February 18, 2013, 12:47 am

    “Russia’s Internet and airwaves on Friday were swirling with rumors that the falling debris was evidence of an American weapons test.” Аll these days was on the Internet and watched the news on TV…they were talking about the fall of the meteorite. Live in Siberia. No one about America and not remembered by us.

  5. Cerise
    Southern California, USA
    February 17, 2013, 8:10 pm

    Amazing. Glad the injuries were not worse (reading most were not), hearing the explosion of the meteor and the sound of shattering glass (great technique of those capturing the event), chilling to think of how much worse it could have been. We were speculating had this happened over a city packed with skyscrapers the damage and injuries might have been severe. Loved…
    “Tim Swindle, director of the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona, Tucson.“What’s going on is you have this rock that’s happily orbiting the sun—from its point of view this morning a planet ran into it.””
    Who had the right of way?
    What was strange to see the quarrelsome comments.
    The reactions almost as surprising as being hit with a big rock no one expected, in spite of all out technology.

  6. isacsanthakumar
    india
    February 17, 2013, 2:10 am

    The article is very much delighted.Thanks.

  7. Kelly
    February 16, 2013, 1:40 pm

    I believe this is the most meticulous report I have read to date. Thank you so much, particularly for the way you handled correction suggestions both graciously and ungraciously submitted. Really nicely done. (imho)

  8. balij
    LA
    February 16, 2013, 8:52 am

    Exclusive pictures of Meteorite Shower crash into Russia and

    Interview with Mr. Afanasi boris ( One of the Witnesses of Crash) is Availabe at

    http://wallstnews.blogspot.com/

  9. Didiet
    Indonesia
    February 16, 2013, 2:17 am

    Would NASA lied about this or they just blind what’s coming to them?

  10. BellsW
    Australia
    February 16, 2013, 12:18 am

    Wow…that’s incredible. One would have to wonder if the bright light injured anyone’s eyesight. I hope those people shattered with glass weren’t badly injured.

  11. Christine Dell'Amore
    February 15, 2013, 11:15 pm

    Thanks mangoduck, I made the changes. Today was a pretty crazy day! Cheers, Christine

  12. Paul Bentley
    fulham London England
    February 15, 2013, 10:53 pm

    chinovel backlash

  13. mangoduck
    February 15, 2013, 7:46 pm

    Christine Dell’Amore: “Thanks Chris, I made the change.”

    Main caption still misleading: “Fragments from a passing meteor hurt at least a thousand people in central Russia on Friday, according to news reports.” Suggest “The shockwave of a passing meteor …”

    Also, Swindle’s quote contradicts itself: “At that moment, the asteroid slammed into our atmosphere at 10 or 20 times the speed of sound—becoming what’s called a meteor. The impact—like hitting a wall—causes air friction that heats the meteor’s surface, shedding melted material and sometimes breaking into smaller pieces. That shattering process is what causes the sonic boom, Swindle said.”

    No it’s not. Fragmentation is a result of the stresses of pressure and rapid heating. A sonic boom is a result of traveling through an atmosphere faster than the speed of sound (of that atmosphere). Aircraft do this without shattering.

  14. Polly
    Mount Hood, OR, USA
    February 15, 2013, 4:31 pm

    Beautifully written and informative article. One question–is it known yet whether the meteor was definitely on north-south trajectory? Is there a way that’s possible (one thinks of rain falling at angle opposite to storm direction–though other factors there), if was traveling with the (south-north) asteroid that fly-by’ed today?

  15. Christian Haley
    Florida, USA
    February 15, 2013, 3:50 pm

    Chris Weiner, that was quite immature and amateur-like of you to play tit for tat with national geographic. If a baseball hits a window and it shatters, and the fragments of the window injure kids, it the baseballs fault. it caused a chain reaction. So stop acting like you know everything, and shut up.
    thanks,
    everyone.

  16. Chris Weiner
    brussels
    February 15, 2013, 1:41 pm

    It’s a shame a NatGeo article’s title would be so far from the truth.
    People were NOT injured by the meteor fragments, but by the fragments of the windows shattered by the shockwave of the sonic boom.

    So amateur-like to write otherwise on Nat Geo…

    • Christine Dell'Amore
      February 15, 2013, 2:58 pm

      Thanks Chris, I made the change.

  17. Валера
    Россия
    February 15, 2013, 1:28 pm

    I can imagine what would have happened if he had fallen in the morning on December 26 last year.

  18. william Abetkoff
    west kelowna,B.C.
    February 15, 2013, 1:20 pm

    -Great Report-Thanks-

  19. Maggie A. Morris-Calderon
    USA, Arkansas.
    February 15, 2013, 1:01 pm

    Wow. You know when thing’s are moving in space there is no clearing for they’re travel. Any thing can happen while it’s traveling. The sent is the air out here is different.

  20. Elany
    Malaysia
    February 15, 2013, 12:59 pm

    May Allah S.W.T pr0tect us fr0m the disaster~ Amin! c0nd0lence fr0m Malaysian t0 the injured Russian..
    May Allah S.W.T blessed all 0f y0u..

  21. duhmonk
    san diego
    February 15, 2013, 12:58 pm

    DAMN !! so much for a chance to prepare

  22. poll
    February 15, 2013, 11:35 am

    holy s**** cant believe it mom talked about it i go randomly on nat geo and see this clip i would of wissed my pants

  23. Ariel Garcia
    ST TECLA,El Salvador
    February 15, 2013, 11:01 am

    The PREPPERS where right .