On Friday morning, around 9.20 am local time, a meteor exploded in the stratosphere over Russia’s Urals region, near the city of Chelyabinsk (see map below). The shock wave was so intense that it shattered windows and collapsed some roofs for miles around, and the explosion was so bright it was seen from over 125 miles away. Early estimates indicate that over 900 people were injured (no deaths reported yet). So far it looks like a smaller version of 1910's Tunguska event.
Nature Magazine calls it the "largest meteor in a century".
Because Russia is the land of dash cams (to prevent insurance fraud, among other things), the explosion was captured by many people and posted to Youtube:
The Washington Post reports:
Regional Health Minister Marina Mokvicheva in Chelyabinsk said 985 people sought medical help for injuries and 43 were hospitalized.
The Russian Academy of Sciences estimated that the meteor weighed roughly 10 tons and was traveling at 10 to 12 miles per second when it disintegrated.
If that's 10 tons, imagine what a 100, 1000, or 10,000 tons rock could do...
Russia's space agency Roscosmos said the meteorite was travelling at a speed of 19 miles per second and that such events were hard to predict
Below is a map that shows the location of Chelyabinsk in central Russia:
While in the air, the meteor broke into several dozen large pieces, said Vladimir Puchkov, the emergency situations minister.
Army units found three meteorite debris impact sites, two of which are in an area near Chebarkul Lake, west of Chelyabinsk, so fragments of space rock might be recovered. Technically, this would make it a meteorite rather than a meteor.
This event could be seen as a warning call that we need to beef up Earth's defense system against asteroids and comets. What if the meteor had been larger and made of harder elements?
Our colleagues at MNN also have a post: Meteor explosion in Russia hurts more than 500 people.
Update: Russia has now entered the clean-up phase after the explosion. Fragments remains elusive:
Divers searched a lake near the city of Chelyabinsk, where a hole several feet wide had opened in the ice, but had so far failed to find any large fragments, officials said.
But estimates on the size of the meteor and the intensity of the blast are starting to become more precise:
A fireball traveling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per second according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail visible as far as 200 km (125 miles) away.
NASA estimated the meteor was 55 feet across before entering Earth's atmosphere and weighed about 10,000 tons.
It exploded miles above Earth, releasing nearly 500 kilotons of energy - about 30 times the size of the nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two, NASA added. (source)
Via Google News (Real-time coverage)