Thursday, December 12, 2013
The Associated Press
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The meteor contrail is seen in this frame grab made from a video shot with a dashboard camera from a highway in Kazakhstan, Russia.
Municipal workers repair a damaged power circuit outside a zinc factory where a section of the roof collapsed when a meteorite exploded over the Chelyabinsk region on Friday.
AP / Oleg Kargapolov, Chelyabinsk.ru
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 Friday, 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 5,000 kilometers (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 on what today is 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.
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In this photo taken with a mobile phone camera, a meteorite contrail is seen in Chelyabinsk region on Friday.
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A local resident assesses damage to a window broken by a shock wave from a meteor explosion in Chelyabinsk, about 930 miles east of Moscow, on Friday.