Hundreds injured as meteor fireball screams across the sky in Russia

Buildings were damaged and more than 400 people suffered injuries, most of them minor, when chunks of space rock plummeted into the Russian Urals this morning. NBC’s Duncan Golestani reports. By Alan Boyle and Matthew DeLuca, NBC News

A huge meteorite flared through the skies over Russia’s Chelyabinsk region early Friday, triggering a powerful shock wave that injured hundreds of people, blew out windows and reportedly caused the roof of a factory to collapse.

Multiple amateur videos posted online showed the meteor’s flaring arc – called a bolide by scientists – across the western Siberia sky. Others from the scene 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.

“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people’s houses to check if they were OK,” Chelyabinsk resident Sergey Hametov told The Associated Press. “We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound.”

Another resident described the meteorite’s “flash.”

“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.”

Initial estimates put the number of injured around 500, with close to 100 people hospitalized. Chelyabinsk health official Marina Moskvicheva said as many as 985 people had requested medical assistance in the city, many for injuries caused by flying glass.

Russia’s interior ministry said the shock wave caused the roof of a zinc factory’s warehouse to collapse, but that no fatalities were reported.

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 say that the event was a meteor shower, and not a single meteor.

“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 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.

As many as 10,000 police have been mobilized to aid in recovery and to remove debris from the meteorite, which has been found in three areas around the Chelyabinsk region, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

A photo provided by the Chelyabinsk regional police department showed a 20-foot hole in the ice covering a lake near the town of Chebakul. The local governor’s office said in a statement that fragments from the falling meteor had plunged into the lake, according to the Agence France-Presse.

In Russia and around the world, observers marveled at the fireball and its aftermath.

It was a once in a decade event, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, told TODAY on Friday, saying the impact was the physics equivalent of hitting a brick wall. “When you hit a brick wall, you basically explode, and that’s what happened here, and it exploded in midair,” Tyson said.

“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.

There have been no significant disturbances to public utilities or communications, Vladimir Stepanov of the Emergency Situation Ministry told ITAR-Tass. “No serious consequences have been so far recorded,” Stepanov said, according to the news agency. “There has been no disruption in the rail and air transport work.”

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.

If 2012 DA14 were to hit Earth, the scenario might play out in a similar way, but with a far more powerful impact. The European Space Agency posted a message on its Twitter account saying that there was no link between the Russian meteor and asteroid 2012 DA14.

“Asteroid 2012 DA14 will not impact Earth, but if another asteroid of a size similar to that of 2012 DA14 (about 150 feet across) were to impact Earth, it would release approximately 2.5 megatons of energy in the atmosphere and would be expected to cause regional devastation,” NASA said in a statement on its website.

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.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

One Response to “Hundreds injured as meteor fireball screams across the sky in Russia”

  1. overoceans says:

    Earth is statistically owed a catastrophic meteorite every 100 years. It’s not a matter of if we’ll be erased by one, but when. Space hurled a rock at the dinosaurs just as it will people. The irony is, if it hadn’t been for that rock, humans would never have had a chance. We humans are fond of saying we’re the greatest species to ever live. Is it possible 50 million years from now Earth’s new greatest species will be pondering the same questions? Absolutely. The universe and time are so infinitely large that the odds of Earth not getting smacked like a golf ball are easily 999,999,999,999 to 1. Just ask the moon. It used to be part of Earth.

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