Basic Astronomy

A huge meteor hit Russia: 1200 injured

15 February 2013: A huge meteor stuck Urals city of Chelyabinsk (which is a major Russian city in Siberia) on 15th of February. Chelyabinsk is a city which is located 1,497 km east of Moscow with 1.12 million population. More than 1,200 people are reported to be injured amongst which more than 200 are children. No immediate incident of any deaths or anyone struck by space fragments are reported. Thousands of buildings are also damaged by this event. Such a huge lose by a meteor is unprecedental in modern age.

Meteor hit at Siberia
(Credit: AP Photo)

The resulting explosion created a shock wave that blew out windows and set of car alarms in Chelyabinsk two and a half minutes later.

Most of the injuries were caused by broken glasses due to after shock of the event.

The area around Chelyabinsk hosts many nuclear and chemical weapons disposal facilities but so far there are no reported risk. The meteor struck only 60 miles from the Mayak nuclear storage and disposal facility.

NASA scientists calculated that the meteor hit the ground with a force about 30 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb.

The meteor was made of 15 meter wide rock with approximately 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes mass.

The dazzling fireball burned brighter than the Sun and it is estimated that the energy released as the meteor's disintegrated in the atmosphere was about 500 kilotons which is around 30 times the size of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The meteor entered the atmosphere at 44,000 miles per hour, taking 32.5 seconds to break up at an altitude of around 15 miles above the earth's surface.

"When you have a fireball of this size we would expect a large number of meteorites to reach the surface and in this case there were probably some large ones," said Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office. "We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average," he said in a statement published on the NASA website.

Some meteorite fragments fell in a frozen reservoir outside the town of Chebarkul. The crash left an 8 meter wide crater in the ice. Divers started a search in the Chelyabinsk region's frozen Lake Chebarkul for a fragment of the meteorite - so far no fragments have been found in the region.

The authorities declared a state of emergency in Chelyabinsk region and about 20,000 rescuers and recovery workers are dispatched to help the injured people. An army of glaziers were also being transported to Chelyabinsk to repair the thousands of broken windows in homes in the city, where night time temperatures fall below -15C.

Russian meteor site
The crash site of a piece of meteor (Picture credit: Chelyabinsk MVD).

In 1908, there was another very strong meteor event on Russia in the Tunguska region in which a massive blast took place when some cosmic body ripped through Siberia - the blast leveled some 80 million trees. Most scientists believe an asteroid or a comet is the reason behind the incident. Tunguska blast is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons. Tunguska region meteor incident was largest recorded explosion of a space object plunging to Earth before the present Chebarkul incident. The site of Chebarkul meteor event is about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) west of Tunguska.

The meteor fall on Siberia just hours before an asteroid (named 2012 DA 14) safely past Earth at the unprecedented distance of 17,200 miles. NASA confirm that the 2012 DA 14 asteroid's passing was "the closest-ever predicted approach to Earth for an object this large."

Scientists believe that there are no indication that the meteor is any way related with the asteroid 2012 DA 14 as the the trajectories of two events are totally different - the Russian meteor fall from North but 2012 DA 14 passed Earth from South to North. So, it is just a coincidence that two separate cosmic events took place in nearly same time.

NASA scientists estimated that a smallish asteroid such as the 2012 DA 14 flies close to Earth every 40 years on average while only once every 1,200 years it hit the planet.

This unprecedented event forces some Russian officials to call for the creation of a global system of space object defense. Alexei Pushkov, Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee chief and close ally of President Vladimir Putin, wrote on his Twitter account late Friday that "instead of fighting on Earth, people should be creating a joint system of asteroid defense". He also added "Instead of creating a (military) European space defense system, the United States should join us and China in creating the AADS - the Anti-Asteroid Defense System".


Time: 03:20:26 UT on Feb 15, 2013.
Size: The pre-impacting asteroid was about 15 meters in diameter and had a mass of 6,000 to 8,000 tonnes.
Based on the long duration of the event and videos, it is clear this was a very shallow entry (certainly less than 20 degrees).
It is NOT related to 2012 DA 14.
Speed: The fireball entered the atmosphere at 18 km/s.
Energy: about 500 kilotons
Damage: The air blast caused window breakage and light structural damage in downtown Chelaybinsk. About 1200 people are injured.

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