On Friday, Feb 15th, a meteor entered the earth’s atmosphere over Russia at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph and shattered into pieces about 18-32 miles above the ground.
According to a statement by the Russian Academy of Sciences, the resulting blasts injured at least 1,100 people, mostly from flying glass. There are unconfirmed reports of a school and a factory being struck by pieces of the meteor as it crashed to the ground. 34 people were hospitalized from their injuries.
A Russian military spokesman, Yarslavl Roshupkin, told ITAR-TASS news agency that they found a 20ft wide crater outside the city of Cherbakul, near the Ural Mountains. This may have been the result of meteor fragments striking the ground.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people’s houses to check if they were OK,” said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, about 1500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow, the biggest city in the affected region (http://bit.ly/Z1TB5D).
Scientists estimated the meteor unleashed a force 20 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, although the space rock exploded at a much higher altitude. Amy Mainzer, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the atmosphere acted as a shield.
This strike came less than a day before asteroid 2012 DA14, a 150 foot diameter asteroid, passed within 17,000 miles of earth at 2:42 pm Eastern time. The European Space Agency denied any connection between the two events and called them a “cosmic coincidence.”
The shock wave may have shattered windows, but “the atmosphere absorbed the vast majority of that energy,” she said (http://wapo.st/Yc8pf8).
NASA estimates that the meteor was about the size of a bus and may have weighed up to 7,000 tons. They also estimate that it released 300 to 500 kilotons of energy and left a trail 300 miles long. This would make it about 20 times more powerful that the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in World War II. But, due to how high it was in the sky, the atmosphere absorbed much of the blast.
Reactions were mixed among Russian politicians. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at an economic forum in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, said the meteor could be a symbol for the forum, showing that “not only the economy is vulnerable, but the whole planet.”
The nationalist party leader,Vladimir Zhirinovsky, noted for vehement statements, said “It’s not meteors falling, it’s the test of a new weapon by the Americans,” the RIA Novosti news agency reported.