A meteorite exploded in the morning sky on Friday, Feb. 15, over a lightly populated area 900 miles east of Moscow, creating a pressure wave that shattered windows and caused buildings to collapse. Over 1,000 people were reported injured as a result of the 10 ton rock entering the atmosphere at a supersonic 33,000 miles per hour and then exploding between 18 and 30 miles above the ground. As reported, most injuries were minor with many being cuts from exploding glass.
Pieces of the Olympic-swimming-pool-sized meteorite landed across Chelyabinsk, where witnesses described seeing an explosion in the sky – seen here in this dashboard camera video, hosted by Russia Today.
Initial rumors implied that the Russian missile defense had “intercepted” the meteorite before it made landfall. The Russian government later issued a statement claiming it had no such capabilities.
Many wild theories have surfaced, including one Russian parliament member and Liberal leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who stated that what Russians saw was actually the United States testing weapons.
Pieces of the meteorite rained down on the Chelyabinsk area following the explosion, with one large piece puncturing through the ice of a nearby frozen lake, leaving a hole several meters in diameter. The Russian Emergency Ministry then issued a warning to residents to stay inside unless absolutely necessary but added that background radiation levels were normal and there was no environmental risk. On Saturday, Feb. 16, divers searched for pieces of the meteorite in the lake but nothing was found.
Astronomers believe the meteorite may be from the time of the Earth’s formation, and as a result the pieces will be collected for study.
Meanwhile, a tracked asteroid known by the label 2012 DA14 was scheduled to pass by Earth Friday at a distance of around 17,000 miles on its orbit through our solar system. The proximity of the two events caused a momentary stir in the astronomical community, as some feared the unannounced arrival of Friday morning’s meteorite could indicate a change in 2012 DA14’s predicted trajectory.
Once the initial shock wore off it became apparent that Russia’s meteorite and the 2012 DA14 asteroid are unconnected, and that DA14 should pass by without incident. The European Space Agency recently confirmed this on the ESA Twitter micro-blog.
The meteorite and the explosion on Friday call up regional fears that are tied to another legendary meteorite in Russian history. In 1908, an explosion known as the Tunguska Event occurred over the desolate Siberian arctic plain which literally flattened 800 square miles of remote arctic forest. Friday’s close-call serves as a reminder that we are, after all, living in the middle of a cosmic billiard table.