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Meteorite strikes Russia, injures hundreds of residents

February 19th, 2013

A quiet morning was disrupted when a meteor crashed to Earth’s surface in Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday, Feb. 15 at 9:20 a.m. The meteor fragments hurt 1,200 people, but left 46 in critical condition, according to BBC World News. Officials say that there was one large meteor that entered Earth’s atmosphere and fragmented, during the entry process. According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, the meteor weighed about 10 tons and was traveling at 33,000 miles per hour upon entry into the atmosphere.

The meteor caused a great deal of damage to the Chelyabinsk region, located just east of Moscow, where it landed in a lake within the city of Chebarkul. The actual rock pieces did not crush citizens or buildings, but the explosions from their contact with Earth shattered windows, resulted in blinding light and released suffocating fumes into the air. After the strike, hundreds of videos documenting the falling chunks of rock, and the pandemonium they caused, were uploaded. These short clips captured schoolchildren running down hallways and employees evacuating buildings amidst flying pieces of glass, causing many citizens to panic. However, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, urged calm, saying he was thankful so few citizens were hurt and that the explosion did not happen in a more populated area. The government was quick to respond to the crisis, sending hundreds of rescue workers to hurting cities and providing efficient medical care to as many people as possible.

The flaming meteor released a staggering 500 kilotons of energy when it broke apart approximately 30 miles above ground, according to NASA. In comparison, the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima released only 12-15 kilotons. NASA also commented on the coincidental nature of the meteor shower, occurring the same day that an asteroid, dubbed 2012 DA 14, passed by Earth at a distance of 17,200 miles. This is the closest a rock mass of that size has ever come to colliding with the planet. Scientists are calling this occurrence a “cosmic coincidence” and believe there is no relationship between the two alarming events. However, looking toward the future, some Russian politicians are calling for the development of weapons capable of deflecting meteors and asteroids from Earth, saying that the events from the past weekend point to an alarming trend, for which government defense systems must be prepared.

In the aftermath of the meteor shower, scientists have been searching for rock fragments to apprehend and study, but according to The New York Times, so far these efforts have been fruitless. Divers have searched the bottom of Chebarkul’s lake all weekend to no avail, and no confirmed craters have been found in the surrounding area, leaving both citizens and scientists baffled. The Russian government will spend the next few weeks repairing the $33 million in damage to the Chelyabinsk region and plans to examine its buildings to ensure protection against similar shock waves and explosions.

Information from The New York Times and BBC World News was used in this article.