On Friday 15th February, a large meteorite crashed into Russia’s Ural Mountains. Latest reports suggest 1200 people were injured by the incident with a number of people still being treated in hospital. Although there are some reports of fragments of the meteor striking the ground the vast majority of damage in the region is believed to have caused by shockwaves of the explosion, as the rock shattered into several fragments up in the upper atmosphere. The resulting shockwave blew out windows and shook buildings. Fortunately, no large fragments hit populated areas; however a 6m crater has been discovered at a frozen lake near Chebarkul, where a large fragment is thought to have impacted.
Asteroids are small bodies that, like the Earth, orbit stars. They predominantly rock and elements such as nickel and iron. Small asteroids are known as meteoroids and, if these enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they are called meteors. Many meteors break into pieces or burn up entirely as they speed through the atmosphere. Once meteors or fragments actually hit the earth, they become meteorites.
The Russian meteorite was the largest recorded object to strike Earth in more than a century. According to Russia’s Academy of Sciences the meteor weighed about 10 tonnes when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart 30-50km (20-30 miles) above ground, releasing several kilotons of energy – the equivalent of a small atomic weapon. However, the US space agency NASA said the meteor weighed 10,000 tonnes before entering the atmosphere, and released about 500 kilotons of energy. As more research is carried out into incident more light may be shed on these conflicting reports. The Emergencies Ministry have urged calm, saying background radiation levels were normal after what it described as a “meteorite shower in the form of fireballs”.
A big rescue and clean-up operation involving more than 9,000 workers is going on in the Ural mountains following the meteor strike, Russia’s Emergencies Ministry says. Despite its massive size, the object went undetected until it reached the atmosphere. A network of telescopes watches for asteroids that might strike Earth, although it is geared towards spotting larger objects — between 100 metres and a kilometre in size. Scientists claim there is no link between the event in the Urals and 2012 DA14, an asteroid which raced past the Earth later on Friday at a distance of just 27,700km one fourteenth of the distance to the moon- the closest ever recorded for an object of that size. Despite, occurrences of meteors colliding with Earth are extremely infrequent and there are many precautions in place if an emergency does arise so don’t despair, there is no need to start planning emergency contingency plans just yet.