Hundreds of people were injured when a meteorite shot across the sky and exploded over central Russia earlier today (Friday, February 15, 2013). Bright fireballs leaving large, thick vapor trails crashed to Earth, shattered windows and damaged thousands of buildings in six cities, according to media reports. Many amateur videos showed an object speeding across the sky about 9:20 a.m. local time in Russia (0320 GMT on February 15, or 9:20 p.m. last night in the central U.S.). Scientists later said that the Russian meteorite was not related to asteroid 2012 DA14, which came closest to Earth at 1:25 p.m. CST (1925 UTC) today. They said the two objects were moving in almost opposite directions. Also, the object that crashed over Russia was probably “the size of an SUV,” according to planetary scientist Dr. Richard Binzel of MIT. Meanwhile, asteroid 2012 DA14 is about half the size of a football field.
The Russian meteor was seen and photographed by many people, many of whom also reported (or recorded) was a loud boom and an intense flash. According to a Reuters article:
People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.
A fireball blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 200 km (125 miles) away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phone networks were interrupted.
Binzel also said that an object the size of the Russian meteorite probably strikes Earth every 10 to 20 years, but most of the time such an object falls over an uninhabited area, for example the ocean.
Chelyabinsk is 950 miles east of Moscow and has a lot of defense production factories, including nuclear weapons factories, but it doesn’t appear as if the damage caused any radiation leaks.
EarthSky weather blogger Matt Daniel passed along the videos below, which were posted to YouTube earlier today. In the first one, a person on the street is trying to capture the meteor’s vapor trail when suddenly a loud explosion can be heard, along with shattering glass.
The strike occurred in Russia’s central Ural Mountains. Fragments of the meteorite reportedly fell in a thinly populated area of the Chelyabinsk region, Russia’s Emergency Ministry later said in a statement. I have not heard yet if any of these fragments have been found.
At least three people were hospitalized in serious condition but the majority received treatment for minor cuts from broken glass after the explosions broke windows and shook buildings.
Bottom line: A large fireball was seen and captured in photographs and on video over central Russia today (Friday, February 15, 2013). A meteorite has apparently crashed to Earth, injuring hundreds of people. Three people hospitalized. No fatalities reported.