Russia meteor strike injures over 1,000
MOSCOW (dpa) – A meteorite shower over central Russia injured some 1,000 people on Friday, authorities said, with most of the wounds caused by shards of flying glass.
The burning rocks damaged buildings and shook the ground as they crashed into six towns in the Chelyabinsk region, located in an area of the Urals some 1,500 kilometres east of Moscow.
Russian official said 200 children were among the injured, according to the Interfax news agency. Some 40 people remain in hospital, including two with serious injuries. All schools and kindergartens in Chelyabinsk have been closed for the day.
The vapour trail of the falling meteorite is seen in the sky over the city of Chelyabinsk, Urals, Russia, February 15, 2013. EPA
Authorities said the damage could have been far worse had the meteorite fragments not fallen in such a sparsely populated area.
“There was a big fireball, which then descended. The whole thing lasted a few seconds,” a resident of the area told Itar-Tass.
Residents also said they saw flashes, explosions and smoke clouds in the sky.
The nearby nuclear facility of Mayak was not affected, news reports quoted authorities as saying.
Substantial meteorites hit the earth every couple of months, but almost never hurt people, said the European Space Agency (ESA).
“This is the first time this has happened, at least as far our records go,” said ESA spokesman Detlef Koschny in Darmstadt, Germany.
“Mostly they land in the ocean, in deserts or in Siberia, so nothing much bad happens.”
Also on Friday, an asteroid dubbed 2012 DA14 will pass very close to Earth, but there is no chance of it colliding with the planet, NASA said.
The agency said on its website that it would broadcast real-time animation of the fly-by and live or near real-time images of the asteroid from observatories in Australia, weather permitting.
The asteroid will fly closest to Earth at 1925 GMT, when it will be 27,600 kilometres above the planet’s surface, NASA said.
Meanwhile AFP reports said the meteor strike on Friday that injured almost a thousand people in a central Russian city inflicted the biggest known human toll from a space rock, experts said.
But the shock event has no link with a flyby by a rogue asteroid, they added.
“I am scratching my head to think of anything in recorded history when that number of people have been indirectly injured by an object like this,” said Robert Massey, deputy executive secretary of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).
“It’s very, very rare to have human casualties” from a meteorite, he said.
Every day, around 100 tonnes of space debris — mainly the rubble left from the building of the Solar System — collides with Earth, say astrophycists.
The vast majority of it is dust and tiny pebbles, which burn up harmlessly at high altitude as they rub against the atmosphere, appearing in streaks of light called meteors that can often be seen on a clear night.
At the other end of the scale are kilometers- (miles-) wide behemoths of the kind that ended the reign of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, smashing into Earth with the force of an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
But these “geo-cruisers” pose only a very remote threat, occurring once over a span of millions of years, or even more, in statistical terms.
More common — but still rare — are larger objects that are metres or tens of metres (yards) across.
They survive the early stage of descent before exploding in the lower atmosphere, causing a shockwave, which is what happened on Friday, said Brigitte Zanda, a meteorite specialist at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.
Christophe Bonnal, head of rocket launchers at France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), said that, in this category, 85 percent of such objects fall in the sea “and of the remaining 15 percent, four-fifths fall in the desert or forests.”
“So the probability of it landing on a city right at the moment when there are lots of people, really is extremely rare.”
According to the Russian authorities, around 950 people were injured in Chelyabinsk, mainly by glass from shattered windows.
Massey, basing his estimate on news reports, said Friday’s object was in all probability less than 10 metres (30 feet) across before it collided with Earth.
He, like other experts, said he saw “absolutely no connection” with asteroid 2012 DA 14, which was to skim the Earth on Friday at a distance of around 27,700 kilometres (17,200 miles).
Estimated to be 45 metres (150 feet) across, 2012 DA 14 would zip by within the orbit of geostationary satellites, making it the closest known flyby by a space rock but posing no threat.
“It (the Chelyabinsk event) happened 12 hours earlier, and that amounts to half a million kilometres (300,000 miles) of travel, (and) it seems to have been travelling in a different direction — east-west, whereas the asteroid tonight will be travelling south to north,” said Massey.
Said Bonnal: “Not on the same orbit, not on the same trajectory.”
Stephen Lowry, an astronomer at Britain’s University of Kent, predicted a keen search for remnants.