On 15 February 2013, an asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere over Russia at about 09:20 YEKT (03:20 UTC). With an estimated speed of 18 km/s (40,000 mph), the meteor became a brilliant superbolide over the southern Ural region. It exploded in an air burst over Chelyabinsk Oblast at about 15 to 25 km (9.3 to 16 mi) above the ground, creating small fragmentary meteorites and a powerful shock wave. The atmosphere absorbed most of the released energy, which was equivalent to nearly 500 kilotons of TNT (2.1 PJ), 20–30 times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
About 1,500 people were injured, two seriously. All of the injuries were due to indirect effects rather than the meteor itself, mainly by glass from windows shattered by the shock wave. Over 4,300 buildings in six cities across the region were damaged by the explosion. The meteor created a dazzling light, bright enough to cast moving shadows during the morning daylight in Chelyabinsk and was observed from Sverdlovsk, Tyumen, Orenburg Oblasts, the Republic of Bashkortostan, and in Kazakhstan. Eyewitnesses also felt intense heat from the fireball.
With an estimated initial mass of 10,000 tonnes, the Chelyabinsk meteor is the largest object to have entered Earth's atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event, and the only meteor known to have resulted in a large number of injuries, although there were some panic-related injuries following the Great Madrid Meteor of 10 February 1896. The object had not been detected before atmospheric entry.
The predicted close approach of the roughly 30-metre asteroid 2012 DA14 occurred about 16 hours later. The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory, Russian sources, the European Space Agency and NASA indicated the two objects could not have been related because the two asteroids had widely different trajectories.
The meteor's path in relation to the ground.
Local residents witnessed extremely bright burning objects in the sky in Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, Tyumen, and Orenburg Oblasts, the Republic of Bashkortostan, and in neighbouring regions in Kazakhstan. Amateur videos showed a fireball streaking across the sky and a loud boom several minutes afterwards.
The meteor occurred at 09:20 Yekaterinburg time, several minutes after sunrise in Chelyabinsk, and minutes before sunrise in Yekaterinburg. According to eyewitnesses the bolide was brighter than the sun, a fact later confirmed by NASA. An image of the object was also taken shortly after it entered the atmosphere by the weather satellite Meteosat 9. Witnesses in Chelyabinsk said that the air of the city smelled like gunpowder.
Illustrating all "phases", from atmospheric
entry to explosion.
The visible phenomenon due to the passage of an asteroid or meteoroid through the atmosphere is called a meteor. If the object reaches the ground, then it is called a meteorite. During the Chelyabinsk meteor's traversal, there was a bright object trailing smoke, then an air burst (explosion) that caused a shock wave, the cause of the material damage.
According to the Russian Federal Space Agency, preliminary estimates indicated the object was an asteroid moving at about 30 km/s in a "low trajectory." According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, the meteor then pushed through the atmosphere at a velocity of 15 km/s. The radiant (the apparent position of origin of the meteor in the sky) appears from video recordings to have been above and to the left of the rising Sun.
Estimates of the size of the asteroid ranged from a diameter of 20 m (66 ft) to a few metres. In earlier reports, Russian scientists initially estimated the asteroid's mass at ~10 tons before it entered Earth's atmosphere, and estimated that it broke apart 30–50 km (19–31 mi) above the surface. The United States space agency NASA estimated the diameter of the bolide at about 17–20 m and its mass at about 11,000 tons. The air burst and shock wave registered on seismographs at magnitude 2.7.
The Russian Geographical Society said the passing of the meteor over Chelyabinsk caused three blasts of different power. The first explosion was the most powerful, and was preceded by a bright flash, which lasted about five seconds. Altitude estimates ranged from 30–70 km, with an explosive equivalent of roughly 500 kilotonnes of TNT (2,100 TJ),[n 1] and the hypocentre of the explosion was to the south of Chelyabinsk, in Yemanzhelinsk and Yuzhnouralsk. The shock wave reached Chelyabinsk two minutes and 57 seconds later. The infrasound waves given off by the explosions were detected by 17 monitoring stations designed to detect nuclear weapons testing run by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission, including at the most distant Antarctic station, some 15,000 kilometres (9,300 mi) away.
Analysis of CCTV and dash cam footage posted on-line indicates that the meteor approached from east by south, and exploded about 40 km south of central Chelyabinsk above Korkino at a height of 27 km, with fragments continuing in the direction of Lake Chebarkul.
The last time a similar phenomenon was observed in the Chelyabinsk region was the Kunashak meteor shower of 1949, after which scientists recovered about 20 meteorites weighing over 200 kg in total. The Chelyabinsk meteor is thought to be the biggest space object to enter Earth's atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event, and the only one known to have resulted in a large number of injuries.
Although it is not yet clear if the 6-metre-wide hole in Lake Chebarkul's frozen surface was the result of an impact, scientists from the Ural Federal University have collected 53 samples from around the hole. The specimens are all under 1 cm in size and initial laboratory analysis confirmed their meteoric origin. They are ordinary chondrite meteorites and contain 10% iron. Scientists intend to name the fragments the Chebarkul meteorite. If accepted, the name will be published in the Bulletin of the Meteoritical Society. A team of six Russian Emergencies Ministry scuba divers examined the lake impact site and found no large meteorite fragment at the bottom. A fragment large enough to cause the 6-metre-wide hole in the ice has yet to be found.
In the neighbouring country of Kazakhstan, officials said they were looking for two possible unidentified objects that may have impacted in Aktobe Province, adjacent to the affected Russian regions.
Damage and injuries
Shattered windows in the Chelyabinsk Drama Theatre
As of 18 February 2013 people had requested medical attention in Chelyabinsk Oblast, including 311 children. Health officials said 112 people had been hospitalised, with two in serious condition. A 52-year-old woman with a broken spine was flown to Moscow for treatment. Most people were hurt by shattered glass. After the blast, car alarms went off and mobile phone networks were overloaded with calls. Office buildings in Chelyabinsk were evacuated. Classes for all Chelyabinsk schools were cancelled, mainly due to broken windows. At least 20 children were injured when the windows of a school and kindergarten burst at 09:22.
A report the day after the meteor by Russia Today listed "3,724 apartments, 671 educational institutions, 69 cultural facilities, 34 hospitals and clinics, 11 social facilities and five sport venues in the Chelyabinsk region..." that needed repairs as a result of the shock wave damage. Approximately 100,000 home-owners were affected, according to Mikhail Yurevich, the governor of the Chelyabinsk Region.
The collapsed roof of a zinc factory in Chelyabinsk
Following the meteor, government officials in Chelyabinsk asked parents to take their children home from schools. Approximately 600 m² of a roof at a zinc factory collapsed during the incident. Residents in Chelyabinsk whose windows were smashed were scrambling to cover the openings with anything available, as the temperature in Chelyabinsk and the impact area was −15 °C (5 °F).
The Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Mikhail Yurevich stated that preserving the central heating system of the city is the primary goal of the authorities. He estimated damage from the meteor at more than than 1 billion rubles (approximately US$33 million). Chelyabinsk authorities said that the broken windows (but not balcony glazing) of apartment homes will be replaced at the state's expense.
One of the buildings damaged in the blast was the Traktor Sport Palace, home arena of Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The arena will be closed for inspection, affecting various events scheduled in the arena, and possibly the postseason of the KHL.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia, confirmed a meteor had struck Russia and said it proves the “entire planet” is vulnerable to meteors and a spaceguard system is needed to protect the planet from similar objects in the future. Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister, proposed that there should be an international programme that would alert countries to "objects of an extraterrestrial origin", also called potentially hazardous objects.
Colonel General Nikolay Bogdanov, commander of the Central Military District, created task forces that were directed to the probable impact areas to search for fragments of the asteroid and to monitor the situation. Meteorites (fragments) measuring 1 to 5 cm (0.39 to 2.0 in) have been found 1 km (0.62 mi) from Chebarkul in the Chelyabinsk region.
On the day of the impact, Bloomberg News reported that the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs had suggested the investigation of creating an "Action Team on Near-Earth Objects", a proposed global asteroid warning network system, in face of 2012 DA14's approach. As a result of the impact, two scientists in California are proposing directed-energy weapon technology development as a possible means to protect Earth from asteroids.
The Russian government put out a brief statement within an hour of the meteor. Discussion on social media sites started almost immediately after the meteor (including initial scepticism, given the sophistication of modern computer-generated imagery), and heavy coverage by the international media had begun by the time the Associated Press put out a brief report with the Russian government's confirmation less than two hours afterwards. Less than 15 hours after the meteor impact, videos of the meteor and its aftermath had been viewed millions of times. The number of injuries caused by the asteroid led Google to pull a Google Doodle on another asteroid, 2012 DA14, from their website.
New York City planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson said the meteor was unpredicted because no attempt had been made to find and catalogue every 15-metre near-Earth object.
Coincidental asteroid approach
Comparison of the former orbit of the Chelyabinsk meteor (larger elliptical blue orbit) and asteroid 2012 DA14
(smaller circular blue orbit), showing they are dissimilar.
Preliminary calculations showed the object was not related to the 15 February close approach of asteroid 2012 DA14 that subsequently passed the Earth at a distance of 27,700 km.
The meteor occurred 16 hours before the approach of asteroid 2012 DA14 to the Earth, which was the "closest ever predicted Earth approach" of an object its size. Phil Plait said they were unlikely to be related because the objects were almost 500,000 kilometres apart and seemed to be travelling in different directions. After an initial analysis of photographs from the site, scientists at the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory in Northern Finland concluded that the two trajectories were widely different.
Marco Langbroek (VU University Amsterdam) pointed out that it is impossible for fragments in orbits similar to that of 2012 DA14 to enter the atmosphere at a latitude as high as 55 degrees north: as seen from the approach direction of such fragments, 55 degrees north is located on the back side of Earth. NASA also released a statement saying that 2012 DA14 and the meteor that exploded over Russia had "significantly different" trajectories and that the two were not related.
Multiple videos of the superbolide, particularly from traffic cameras, helped to establish the meteor's provenance as an Apollo asteroid. The radiant of the impacting asteroid was located in the constellation Pegasus in the Northern hemisphere. The radiant was close to the Eastern horizon where the Sun was starting to rise. The asteroid belonged to the Apollo group of near-Earth asteroids, and was roughly 40 days past perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) and had aphelion (furthest distance from the Sun) in the asteroid belt.
In the aftermath of the air burst of the body, a large number of small meteorites fell on areas west of Chelyabinsk, generally at terminal velocity, about the speed of a piece of gravel dropped from a skyscraper. Local residents and schoolchildren located and picked up some of the meteorites, many located in snowdrifts, by following a visible hole that had been left in the outer surface of the snow. Speculators have been active in the informal market that has rapidly emerged for meteorite fragments. (See also: Meteorite hunter.)
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- This article contains portions of text translated from the corresponding article of the Russian Wikipedia. A list of contributors can be found there in the History section.
- Yau, Kevin, Weissman, Paul, & Yeomans, Donald. Meteorite Falls In China And Some Related Human Casualty Events, Meteoritics (journal), Vol. 29, No. 6, November 1994, pp. 864–871, ISSN 0026-1114, Bibliographic Code: 1994Metic..29..864Y.
- Partial abstract: "A calculation based on the number of casualty events in the Chinese meteorite records suggests that the probability of a meteroite striking a human is far greater than previous estimates."