CHELYABINSK METEOR: The space rock that scared Siberia

Over a week ago, the inhabitants of the industrial town of Chelyabinsk, located in the freezing tundra of Russia’s Far East, witnessed the visit of an extraterrestrial visitor from the furthest reaches of outer space. It was an event which significantly affected and astounded millions of people, not only across the Russian Federation, but in areas thousands of miles away.

(c) Oleg Sh. @ Flickr

The town of Chelyabinsk, located in Siberia’s industrial heartland near the border with Kazakhstan.

A meteor, measuring around 17 metres in diameter, and believed to weigh in at an estimated 10,000 tonnes, entered the atmosphere somewhere above the Ural mountains that traditionally separates Europe from Asia. It began to disintegrate, sending fireballs and pieces of meteorite crashing down over a large swathe of the Siberian territory. Several pieces fell upon the town of Chelyabinsk, narrowly missing the Mayak nuclear facility managed by Russia’s governmental nuclear agency, Rosatom. The town lies around 1,500 kilometres from the capital Moscow.

The remaining meteorite, much reduced in size, was believed to have finally made contact with the Earth at the Chebarkul lake outside Chelyabinsk, slamming a 11-12 foot wide hole in the lake’s ice, according to a video released by local observers.

Meteor trace
Meteor trace (Photo credit: alexeya)

The Chelyabinsk meteorite that brought terror to the Siberian steppes.

Residents of Chelyabinsk on their way to work during the morning rush hour reported seeing a massive white fireball streak across the sky, which in one video captured by a local, seemed to resemble a contrail like that released by an airplane. As the meteor made its way rapidly through the Earth’s lower atmosphere, its passage created a devastating shockwave that shattered the windows of buildings, set off car alarms and even tore off 6,000 square feet of a zinc factory’s roof. Locals reacted with a mix of shock and panic. As the fireball flashed over Chelyabinsk, traffic on the town’s roads came to a standstill, and many reported feeling that it was the end of the world. So bright was the meteor’s arrival, it was seen in the city of Yekaterinburg, 200 kilometres away. People were reported huddling in the doorways of buildings with fright as the blinding light travelled across the dawn sky. Worried parents kept their children at home as schools all over the Chelyabinsk region remained closed. There were initial fears that the Mayak nuclear facility has been affected but Rosatom engineers reported no damage to the site’s uranium reactors.

Latest figures report that over a thousand people were injured, mostly by flying pieces of glass from office and shop windows. Local hospitals struggled to cope with the demands as casualties streamed into their wards, many of whom also needed treatment for shock. People found that they were not receiving mobile phone signals, causing a communication crisis as they struggled to contact family, friends and colleagues. Chelyabinsk’s civic website reported 758 injuries, while Mikhail Yurevich, the governor of the Chelyabinsk oblast’ (region) stated a region-wide total of at least 950 casualties, two-thirds of whom received light injuries from flying glass and debris.

In addition to shattering windows, the meteor’s shockwave wreaked havoc on buildings. Russia’s interior ministry reported damage to 300 different locations, including housing, schools, hospitals and even an ice hockey stadium. Governor Yurevich estimated the total costs of damages at US$ 33 million (1 billion Russian rubles). Windows were broken in the ulitsa Lenina, a main road in the centre of town, while some shopfronts were buckled by the power of the resultant shockwave in the meteor’s wake. The government has ordered checks of affected buildings to determine if they remain seismically and structurally sound.

Thankfully, no fatalities or direct strikes by meteorite strikes on people were reported, but a wave of fear spread over Russian media and citizens, with one nationalist politician claiming that the meteor was a secret military manoeuvre by the Americans, a theory dismissed as farcical by the federal government. Reports of the meteor made frontpage news in media outlets across the globe, especially as its arrival coincided with the passing by of asteroid 2012 DA14. This asteroid was reported by NASA to have made a close approach to Earth at a distance of about 35,800 kilometres in the same week as the meteor that burned up over Siberia. However astronomers have said that there was no connection between the two events.

Many thanks to Sunny Atwal for suggesting this weekend’s article.

VIDEOS of The Chelyabinsk Meteor

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“Russia cleans up after meteor strike” – Al Jazeera and agencies, Al Jazeera (Online) LINK

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