A meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over Russia’s Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb yesterday, its sonic blasts shattering countless windows and injuring about 1,100 people.
Many of the injured were cut by flying glass as they flocked to windows, curious about what had produced the blinding flash of light.
The meteor, estimated to weigh about 10 tonnes, entered Earth’s atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 54,000kph (33,000mph) and shattered into pieces about 30 to 50km (18 to 32 miles) above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement.
Amateur video showed an object speeding across the sky just after sunrise, leaving a thick white contrail and an intense flash.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening,” said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city of one million about 1,500km (930 miles) east of Moscow.
“We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud, thundering sound,” he said.
The meteor hit less than a day before asteroid 2012 DA14 was to make the closest recorded pass by the Earth for a rock of its size — about 28,000km (17,150 miles). But the European Space Agency said its experts had determined there was no connection — just cosmic coincidence.
The meteor released several kilotons of energy above the region, the Russian science academy said. According to NASA, it was about 15 metres (49ft) wide before it hit the atmosphere, about one third the size of the passing asteroid.
Some meteorite fragments fell in a reservoir outside the town of Chebarkul. The crash left an eight metre -wide crater in the ice.
The shock wave blew in an estimated 100,000 square metres of glass, according to Chelyabinsk officials, who said 3,000 buildings in the city were damaged. At one zinc factory, part of the roof collapsed.
The Interior Ministry said about 1,100 people sought medical care after the shock wave and 48 of them were admitted to hospital.
Meteors typically cause sizeable sonic booms when they enter the atmosphere because they are travelling 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 neighbourhood started crying out that the world was ending.
Lessons had just started at Chelyabinsk schools when the meteor exploded, and officials said 258 schoolchildren were among those injured.
Russian television ran footage of athletes at a city sports arena who were showered by shards of glass from huge windows.
The vast implosion of glass windows exposed many residents to bitter cold as temperatures in the city were expected to plummet to -20C (-4F) last night.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the Russian government has underestimated the potential risks.
He noted that the meteor struck only 100km from the Mayak nuclear storage and disposal facility.
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