Feb 15 2013
A meteor has streaked across the sky and exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb, its sonic blasts shattering countless windows and injuring nearly 1,000 people.
The spectacle deeply frightened many Russians, with some elderly women declaring that the world was coming to an end. Many of the injured were cut by flying glass as they flocked to windows to see what the source was for such an intense flash of light.
The meteor - estimated to be about 10 tons - entered the Earth's atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph) and shattered into pieces about 30-50 kms (18-32 miles) above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said.
Amateur video showed an object speeding across the sky about 9:20 am local time, 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 1,500 kms (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 released several kilotons of energy above the region, the science academy said. The shock wave blew in an estimated 100,000 square metres (more than one million square feet) of glass, according to city officials.
The meteor hit less than a day before Asteroid 2012 DA14 is to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid to the Earth - about 17,150 miles (28,000 kms). But the European Space Agency in a tweet said its experts found there was no connection - just cosmic coincidence.
The Russian meteor was probably about two metres (six and a half feet) across, about the size of an SUV, said Richard Binzel, a professor of Planetary Science at MIT.
The Interior Ministry said 985 people sought medical care after the shock wave and 44 of them were taken to hospital. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass. Lessons had just started at Chelyabinsk schools when the meteor exploded, and officials said 204 schoolchildren were among those injured.
City officials said 3,000 buildings in the city were damaged by the shock wave, including a zinc factory where part of the roof collapsed. The vast implosion of glass windows exposed many residents to the bitter cold as temperatures in the city hovered around minus 9 Celsius (15.8 Fahrenheit).