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Meteor explodes over Russia; about 1,100 injured

By Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:06 p.m. HST, Feb 15, 2013

MOSCOW » With a blinding flash and a booming shock wave, a meteor blazed across the western Siberian sky Friday (Thursday in Hawaii) and exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs, injuring more than 1,000 people as it blasted out windows and spread panic in a city of 1 million.

While NASA estimated the meteor was only about the size of a bus and weighed an estimated 7,000 tons, the fireball it produced was dramatic. Video shot by startled residents of the city of Chelyabinsk showed its streaming contrails as it arced toward the horizon just after sunrise, looking like something from a world-ending science-fiction movie.

The largest recorded meteor strike in more than a century occurred hours before a 150-foot asteroid passed within about 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) of Earth. The European Space Agency said its experts had determined there was no connection between the asteroid and the Russian meteor — just cosmic coincidence.

The meteor above western Siberia entered the Earth's atmosphere about 9:20 a.m. local time (5:20 p.m. HST Thursday) at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph and shattered into pieces about 18 to 32 miles high, the Russian Academy of Sciences said. NASA estimated its speed at about 40,000 mph, said it exploded about 12 to 15 miles high, released 300 to 500 kilotons of energy and left a trail 300 miles long.

"There was panic. People had no idea what was happening," said Sergey Hametov of Chelyabinsk, about 930 miles east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.

"We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud, thundering sound," he told The Associated Press by telephone.

The shock wave blew in an estimated more than 1 million square feet of glass, according to city officials, who said 3,000 buildings in Chelyabinsk were damaged. At a zinc factory, part of the roof collapsed.

The Interior Ministry said about 1,100 people sought medical care after the shock wave and 48 were hospitalized. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass, officials said.

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.

The shock wave may have shattered windows, but "the atmosphere absorbed the vast majority of that energy," she said.

Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Vladimir Purgin said many of the injured were cut as they flocked to windows to see what caused the intense flash of light, which momentarily was brighter than the sun.

There was no immediate word on any deaths or anyone struck by space fragments.

President Vladimir Putin summoned the nation's emergencies minister and ordered immediate repairs. "We need to think how to help the people and do it immediately," he said.

Some meteorite fragments fell in a reservoir outside the town of Chebarkul, the regional Interior Ministry office said. The crash left a 26-foot crater in the ice.

Lessons had just started at Chelyabinsk schools when the meteor exploded, and officials said 258 children were among those injured. Amateur video showed a teacher speaking to her class as a powerful shock wave hit the room.

Yekaterina Melikhova, a high school student whose nose was bloody and whose upper lip was covered with a bandage, said she was in her geography class when a bright light flashed outside.

"After the flash, nothing happened for about three minutes. Then we rushed outdoors. ... The door was made of glass, a shock wave made it hit us," she said.

Russian television ran video of athletes at a city sports arena who were showered by shards of glass from huge windows. Some of them were still bleeding.

Other videos showed a long shard of glass slamming into the floor close to a factory worker and massive doors blown away by the shock wave.

Meteors typically cause sizeable sonic booms when they enter the atmosphere because they are traveling so much faster than the speed of sound. Injuries on the scale reported today, however, are extraordinarily rare.

"I went to see what that flash in the sky was about," recalled resident Marat Lobkovsky. "And then the window glass shattered, bouncing back on me. My beard was cut open, but not deep. They patched me up. It's OK now."

Another resident, Valya Kazakov, said some elderly women in his neighborhood started crying out that the world was ending.

The many broken windows exposed residents to the bitter cold as temperatures in the city were expected to plummet to minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) overnight. The regional governor put out a call for any workers who knew how to repair windows.

Russian-language hashtags for the meteorite quickly shot up into Twitter's top trends.

"Jeez, I just woke up because my bed started shaking! The whole house is moving!" tweeted Alisa Malkova.

Social media was flooded with video from the many dashboard cameras that Russians mount in their cars, in case of pressure from corrupt traffic police or a dispute after an accident.

The dramatic event prompted an array of reactions from prominent Russians.

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."

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a nationalist leader noted for his vehement statements, blamed the Americans.

"It's not meteors falling. It's the test of a new weapon by the Americans," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the incident showed the need for leading world powers to develop a system to intercept objects falling from space.

"At the moment, neither we nor the Americans have such technologies" to shoot down meteors or asteroids, he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Meteoroids are small pieces of space debris — usually parts of comets or asteroids — that are on a collision course with the Earth. They become meteors when they enter the Earth's atmosphere. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but if they survive the frictional heating and strike the surface of the Earth they are called meteorites.

NASA said the Russian fireball was the largest reported since 1908, when a meteor hit Tunguska, Siberia, and flattened an estimated 80 million trees. Chelyabinsk is about 3,000 miles west of Tunguska. The Tunguska blast, attributed to a comet or asteroid fragment, is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons.

Scientists believe that a far larger meteorite strike in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. According to that theory, the impact would have thrown up vast amounts of dust that blanketed the sky for decades and altered the climate on Earth.

The object hailed from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, becoming a meteor as it streaked through the earth's atmosphere, Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said.

Paul Chodas, research scientist at the Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that ground telescopes would have needed to point in the right direction at the right time to spot Friday's incoming meteor.

"It would be very faint and difficult to detect, not impossible, but difficult," Chodas said.

The 150-foot space rock that safely hurtled past Earth at 9:25 a.m. HST today was dubbed Asteroid 2012 DA14 and was discovered a year ago. It came closer than many communication and weather satellites that orbit 22,300 miles up.

The asteroid was invisible to astronomers in the United States at the time of its closest approach on the opposite of the world. But in Australia, astronomers used binoculars and telescopes to watch the point of light speed across the clear night sky.

Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science, called the back-to-back celestial events an amazing display.

"This is indeed very rare and it is historic," he said on NASA TV. "These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don't see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas. "

Experts said the Russian meteor could have produced much more serious problems in the area hosting nuclear and chemical weapons disposal facilities.

Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia noted that the meteor struck only 60 miles from the Mayak nuclear storage and disposal facility, which holds dozens of tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

The panic and confusion that followed the meteor quickly gave way to typical Russian black humor and entrepreneurial instincts. Several people smashed in the windows of their houses in the hopes of receiving compensation, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Others quickly took to the Internet and put what they said were meteorite fragments up for sale.

One of the most popular jokes was that the meteorite was supposed to fall on Dec. 21, 2012 — when many believed the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world — but was delivered late by Russia's notoriously inefficient postal service.

AP writers Max Seddon and Science Writer Alicia Chang contributed to this story.

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64hoo wrote:
probably one of there satellites they had in space broke up and the pieces fell to earth,.falling on russia
on February 14,2013 | 11:46PM
1local wrote:
no warning? someone must have seen it coming - decision was probably made to keep it quiet to prevent panic...
on February 15,2013 | 09:25AM
TLehel wrote:
Most meteors and even asteroids can't be seen flying around. It's hard to detect even the asteroids in space because, well you can't really see black on black, can you? That's one of the reasons there would be no warning. The other is that the object enters our atmosphere at a speed greater than sound, so there's not much time for warning anyway. If an asteroid were to hit us it would be the same thing. Your life would be over before you even realized what happened.
on February 15,2013 | 10:36AM
RichardCory wrote:
Or you're probably completely wrong, and this is one of the stupidest things I have read all day. Fortunately for you, allie kept this from being THE stupidest thing all day.
on February 15,2013 | 10:40AM
palani wrote:
According to respected CNN news anchor Deb Feyerick, this may be yet one more too-obvious-to-ignore sign of global warming:


on February 15,2013 | 04:10AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Predictable. I knew some dummy would suggest or say it was caused by global warming.
on February 15,2013 | 07:21AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Well there goes the "respect" down the toilet. Meteorites have as much to do with global warming as the ice melting too quickly in my beer. I believe this is because Al Gore sold his TV station to Al Jazeera and hired Sarah Palin to give comet and meteorite play by play.
on February 15,2013 | 07:29AM
kiheilocal wrote:
The sky is falling, the sky is falling!!
on February 15,2013 | 05:21AM
fstop wrote:
It was Bush's fault...
on February 15,2013 | 06:04AM
loquaciousone wrote:
I blame Hugo Chavez.
on February 15,2013 | 07:30AM
RichardCory wrote:
Meteors did 9/11. It was a cover-up.
on February 15,2013 | 10:40AM
IAmSane wrote:
↑ comments

on February 15,2013 | 06:15AM
3ocean3000 wrote:
Oh no, it's definitely King Obama's fault. You know, our Socialist Kenyan gun hating, entitlement loving, 2nd term POTUS who seems to be responsible for ALL bad things.
on February 15,2013 | 07:01AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
You forgot Muslim.
on February 15,2013 | 07:48AM
DABLACK wrote:
Da Americans trying out their new weapon ??
on February 15,2013 | 07:15AM
loquaciousone wrote:
If it smelled like kim chee than it's North Korea's rocket falling back down.
on February 15,2013 | 07:33AM
Venus1 wrote:
U H Astronomers have been involved in finding ways to intercept meteors and asteroids before they hit the earth!!! Just one of many projects U H is working on!
on February 15,2013 | 07:28AM
patk wrote:
on February 15,2013 | 07:35AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I picture Boris Tearyertitzoff finding out that damage by meteorite explosion is not covered on his homeowners insurance. Vodka! We need more vodka!
on February 15,2013 | 07:47AM
Slow wrote:
The meteor is obviously part of the LIBERAL AGENDA!!!
on February 15,2013 | 08:23AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Best vid is very bottom. Raw real time footage. Crazy.
on February 15,2013 | 08:42AM
Skyler wrote:
By far the best one, for real. Pretty crazy that you can hear the 'booms' still happening as it gets farther & farther away. I can only imagine what he was saying though... must've been a frightening experience. If something like that happened here, N Korea would probably get nuked out of existence... oops!
on February 15,2013 | 06:23PM
loquaciousone wrote:
It's all HGEA's fault.
on February 15,2013 | 09:11AM
gobows wrote:
on February 15,2013 | 09:28AM
primo1 wrote:
Something about Russia...anyone familiar with the Tunguska Event of 1908?
on February 15,2013 | 11:00AM
st1d wrote:
this shows how important it is to build the proposed 30 meter telescope on mauna kea. the search for near earth objects must be enhanced and pursued to allow identification of dangerous space objects. once every two weeks a similar sized object falls into the earth's atmosphere.
on February 15,2013 | 01:15PM
kekolohe wrote:
Meteor detector: http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/15/16977795-meteor-warning-system-in-the-works-but-not-ready-yet?lite
on February 15,2013 | 01:16PM
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