This date — Feb. 15, 2013 — will be a date forever remembered as when Earth suffered a cosmic flesh wound. During the chilly morning commute in the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, a fireball — or “superbolide meteor” — lit up the sky, outshining the dawn sunlight. The fireball was caused by a 12,000–13,000 ton asteroid slamming into our atmosphere at 60 times the speed of sound. The shockwaves generated by the atmospheric impact caused 1,500 injuries (mainly from blown-out windows) and cost millions of dollars in property damage. The Russian meteor event — the largest in modern history and the first documented case of a large fireball explosion over a populated region — strengthened arguments for improved asteroid impact mitigation strategies. The Chelyabinsk event proved that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when we’ll get hit again.
A huge fireball shattered the morning skies over Russia’s Urals region generating a series of powerful sonic booms, blowing out windows and causing widespread panic, injuring hundreds of people. The event has been captured by a series of Youtube videos uploaded from eyewitness cameras and CCTV footage.
“Atmospheric phenomena have been registered in the cities of Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen,” reports the Russian news agency RT. “In Chelyabinsk, witnesses said the explosion was so loud that it resembled an earthquake and thunder at the same time, and that there were huge trails of smoke across the sky. Others reported seeing burning objects fall to earth.” The region is approximately 900 miles east of Moscow.
20,000 emergency response workers have been sent into the region and background radiation levels are being monitored — they are currently normal.
Details are currently sketchy, but as this video shows, it was certainly a major event. In another video, an eyewitness trains their camera on billowing smoke overhead just as a series of loud explosions cause windows to shatter and car alarms to be triggered. It’s not thought the loud bangs were caused by surface impacts of meteorites, it’s most likely shock waves (sonic booms) originating from the hypervelocity object.
400-500 injuries have been reported, mainly cuts from shattered glass and minor concussions, most in the Chelyabinsk area.
Multiple news sources are reporting that a “meteor shower” has affected the region, but officials say that the shower was likely caused by the disintegration of a larger object. “Verified information indicates that this was one meteorite which burned up as it approached Earth and disintegrated into smaller pieces,” deputy head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry press office, Elena Smirnykh told Ria Novosti.
Also, there are reports that fragments of the fireball have fallen as meteorites on populated areas. A website with a stunning collection of videos and alleged damage to buildings caused by the object is now online.
This event comes a few hours before the much-anticipated asteroid 2012 DA14 will make its flyby, prompting many across Twitter and other social media platforms to speculate the Russian meteor and DA14 are related. Although the timing is fishy, experts don’t think the two are related. “For one thing, this occurred about 16 hours before DA14 passes. At 8 kilometers per second that’s nearly half a million kilometers away from DA14. That puts it on a totally different orbit,” astronomer Phil Plait pointed out in a Bad Astronomy blog.
The European Space Agency has now confirmed that there is no link between both objects.
This is an incredible event that has happened over a populated region, a powerful reminder that there are many more space rocks buzzing around out there.