MOSCOW—A meteorite plunged to earth in Russia’s Ural Mountains Friday, exploding into flames in a powerful blast that smashed windows and injured around 1,000 people.
Amateur videos broadcast on state television showed an object streaking across the sky trailing smoke around 9:20 a.m. local time before bursting into a fireball. Residents in the city of Chelyabinsk, the largest in the affected region, described a shock wave that blew in doors, smashed glass and set off car alarms.
“The light was so intense that it completely illuminated the courtyard of our apartment block,” said Sergei Zakharov, head of the Russian Geographical Society in Chelyabinsk. “The sound, the shock wave came around six minutes later. No one could understand what had happened. I’d compare it to the explosion of a large flare bomb.”
A contrail above an apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk; Russian officials said a meteorite or a shower of meteorites fell in the area, collapsing one roof and causing more than 100 injuries.
The Emergency Situations Ministry said almost 1,000 people sought medical attention, mostly for cuts from flying glass. Forty-three people were hospitalized with injuries. Around 3,000 buildings were damaged by the blast, which blew a hole in the walls of a metals factory in Chelyabinsk, approximately 1,500 kilometers east of Moscow.
Children were sent home from schools and nurseries, and the explosion temporarily knocked out one mobile operator’s network.
The unusual sight sowed confusion among some locals. Amateur video showed children in one school streaming out of a classroom and screaming.
“We didn’t understand what was happening. We thought an airplane had crashed,” said a woman who answered the phone at the city administration but declined to give her name.
“That kind of light doesn’t happen in life, only at the end of the world,” Vlada Palagina, a Chelyabinsk schoolteacher, told the LifeNews website.
Officials moved quickly to calm residents, saying there was no threat to human life from the rock fragments. Most of the meteorite burned up before pieces hit the ground outside Chelyabinsk, scientists said.
President Vladimir Putin ordered the emergency situations minister to provide help for those affected.
“There’s no major destruction,” Chelyabinsk regional Governor Mikhail Yuyevich wrote on his blog. “The main task now is to maintain heat in the apartments and offices where the glass was smashed.”
Scientists said the incident was a rare event, both in terms of the size of the rock and the number of injuries it caused.
“There have been reports of one or two people being injured in the past. This is entirely unprecedented,” said Keith Smith, an astronomer at Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society.
Dr. Smith stressed that there was no connection between the meteor event in Russia and the swimming-pool-sized asteroid that is expected to harmlessly pass about 28,000 kilometers from earth on Friday.
Planetary scientist Samuel Kounaves at Tufts University in Boston also said there likely was no connection between the meteor strike in Russia and the record close approach Friday of asteroid 2012 DA14, a 130,000-ton rock which was expected to narrowly miss the planet by about 17,200 miles. “It probably had nothing to do with the meteorite that hit Russia,” he said.
Asteroids are fairly small pieces of rock that go around the sun. A meteoroid is an even smaller piece of debris or particle that goes around the sun. A meteorite, on the other hand, is a meteoroid that survives its atmosphere plunge and lands upon the earth’s surface.
to plunge: to fall abruptly
to smash: to crash into
to streak: to move in a straight or patterned line
courtyard: the yard in front or in the middle of an apartment complex
a contrail: a visible pattern or mark left by something passing
to collapse: to cause to fall
to knock out: to disable or damage completely so as not to function (to make out of service)
to miss: to not hit by a very small distance
unprecedented: without precedent or never happening before
debris: broken materials from an accident or impact of some kind