16 Feb 2013

Scientists to analyse Russian meteor fragments

10:36 pm on 16 February 2013

Scientists are to analyse fragments that survived as a meteor burned up in the skies above Russia's Ural Mountains.

A meteor that exploded over central Russia on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to earth, injured 1200 people as its shockwave shattered windows and damaged buildings across a wide area.

The main damage was in the city of Chelyabinsk, about 1500 kilometres east of Moscow.

Professor Tim O'Brien of Manchester University says the meteor must have been much larger than those commonly seen as shooting stars, because the fireball was so dramatic and bright.

"It really must have been a reasonable sized chunk. So whether it's basketball sized or even car sized, maybe - to some extent depends on what it's made of becuase that affects how it breaks up and burns up in the atmosphere."

Thought to weigh 10 tonnes and travelling at 30 kilometres per second, the meteor partially burned up in the earth's lower atmosphere, sending blazing fragments across the sky and causing damage in six cities.

People heading to work in the industrial city of Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave, a Reuters correspondent in the city said.

Thousands of windows shattered and mobile phone networks were disrupted.

The Interior Ministry said the event also unleashed a sonic boom.

Russia's Academy of Sciences said the meteor entered Earth's atmosphere and broke apart 30 to 50 kilometres above ground.

The energy released when it entered the Earth's atmosphere was equivalent to a few kilotonnes, the academy said, the power of a small atomic weapon exploding.

The blast at about 9.20am on Friday shattered windows on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled. The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the city's centre.

Chelyabinsk regional governor Mikhail Yurevich told news agency RIA Novosti that two-thirds of the injuries were light wounds from glass shards and other materials blown out by the shockwave.

Officials said almost 300 buildings were damaged by the shockwave including schools, hospitals, a zinc factory and an ice hockey stadium.

The region, about 1500 kilometres east of Moscow, is home to a nuclear power plant and the Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment centre as well as many factories.

Such meteor strikes are rare in Russia but one is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2000 square kilometres in Siberia in 1908.

It appeared the meteor's entry into the atmosphere was not linked to the asteroid 2012 DA 14 that passed thousands of kilometres above the Earth on Saturday.