Russian panic as meteor shower rains down

Russian panic as meteor shower rains down

Russian panic as meteor shower rains down

Updated 16 February 2013, 17:06 AEDT

A blazing meteor explodes over central Russia, raining fireballs over a vast area and causing a shockwave that smashes windows and leaves hundreds of people injured.

A blazing meteor has exploded over a city in central Russia, with flying shards of glass and debris leaving hundreds of people injured.

The winter dawn was briefly broken by bright light as a flaming meteor made its way across the sky over Chelyabinsk, about 1,500 kilometres east of Moscow.

Officials believe the meteor exploded about 10,000 metres above the city, sending numerous fireballs crashing into the ground.

The fireballs were followed by a shockwave that knocked people off their feet.

Car alarms rang out and windows were smashed across the city.

The Interior Ministry says about 1,200 people were injured, including at least 200 children.

Some buildings were hit by debris, including a factory which had a wall caved in by a fireball.

The meteor raced across the horizon, leaving a long trail of white smoke in its wake which could be seen as far as 200km away in Yekaterinburg.

Residents say they heard what sounded like an explosion.

"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev, a 36-year-old resident of Yekaterinburg.

"I felt like I was blinded by headlights."

Windows were shattered on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled.

"I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend," said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name.

"Then there was a flash, and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shockwave that smashed windows."

A wall was damaged at the nearby Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but there is no environmental threat.

A spokesman for Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state corporation, says its operations - including a massive atomic waste storage and treatment centre in the region - remained unaffected.

Such incidents are rare in Russia.

A meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 square kilometres in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 200km from the point of impact.

The emergency ministry described Friday's events as a "meteor shower in the form of fireballs" and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.

Meanwhile, Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens.

They said a blast had been heard at an altitude of 10,000 metres, apparently signalling it occurred when the meteorite entered Earth's atmosphere.

The meteor's impact has no connection with asteroid 2012 DA14's fly-by of the Earth, according to Robert Massey, deputy executive secretary of Britain's Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

Mr Massey says the meteor strike has left the biggest known human injury toll from a space rock.

"I am scratching my head to think of anything in recorded history when that number of people have been indirectly injured by an object like this ... it's very, very rare to have human casualties," he said.

He says small space debris burns up harmlessly in the sky as it enters the atmosphere, appearing in streaks of light called meteors that can often be seen on a clear night.

But, very rarely, larger objects survive the early stage of descent before exploding in the lower atmosphere, causing a shockwave, which is what happened on Friday, Mr Massey says.


ABC/wires