I’m sitting here at the AAAS meeting and I just heard that there are reports of a meteorite strike in Russia. Early reports are saying that there are anywhere from 500 to 950 people injured in the area. I’ll be updating this post for the next few hours as details continue to come in.
What we know so far:
There were bright streaks filmed and photographed passing through the air in Russia.
The New York Times is reporting no deaths yet, but that nearly 750 people have sought medical treatment so far in hospitals in the city of Chelyabinsk, many for treatment from broken glass.
There was some sort of explosion that occurred while the meteorite was in transit. The NYT is also reporting that Russian authorities currently believe that the strike was a bolide, a meteorite that broke up in the earth’s atmosphere.
The USGS definition for bolide is slightly different, however. They say “There is no consensus on its definition, but we use it to mean an extraterrestrial body in the 1-10-km size range, which impacts the earth at velocities of literally faster than a speeding bullet (20-70 km/sec = Mach 75), explodes upon impact, and creates a large crater. “Bolide” is a generic term, used to imply that we do not know the precise nature of the impacting body . . . whether it is a rocky or metallic asteroid, or an icy comet, for example.”
The Russians say that there was a crater found, but at present there are differing accounts of its size.
Russia is no stranger to weird events like this. In 1908 it was the site of a huge explosion, known as the Tunguska Event which flattened over 80 million trees in the Siberian forest.
This meteorite strike comes near the same time that asteroid 2012 DA14 was set to pass by the earth at very close range–below the orbits of some of our satellites. Early speculation is that the meteorite might have been a traveling companion of the asteroid.
Update 10:55 am: The Washington Post has a good Q&A in which an ESA Spokesman does say that the meteor and asteroid 2012DA14 are not related. H apparently used the term ‘cosmic coincidence’ Excellent pun sir. I salute you. He later poured water over the ‘Armageddon’ idea of using a nuclear weapon to divert a falling meteor from a large population center.
Another tidbit from the Washington post article says that the last comparable strike took place in 2008 over Sudan, with no known injuries.
Update 11:06 The blogs are starting to come in. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground has a post with some great pictures, including a picture that purports to be of the crater that was created. Apparently it landed in an ice-covered lake?
Caleb Scharf at SciAm has a good blog post detailing the ins and outs of a meteor vs meteorite and other interesting background.
Over at Nature, they have some absolutely mind-blowing footage of the meteorite traveling through the sky and the explosion. (H/T Doug Main for finding the video)
Update 11:32: The Guardian is doing a great live page with updates on the meteor including a really neat interactive map of every recorded meteorite strike.
And in other perilously close to earth objects news NASA is doing a live stream of the asteroid 2012 DA14 now: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2
Update 11:40 The Nature article mentioned above makes an interesting point that the meteor (estimated at 15 m) was not seen by any of the observatory posts looking for such objects. From the article:
“Despite its massive size, the object went undetected until it hit the atmosphere. “I’m not aware of anyone who saw this coming,” says Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Although a network of telescopes watches for asteroids that might strike Earth, it is geared towards spotting larger objects — between 100 metres and a kilometre in size.”
Update 11:47 Discover Magazine’s Corey Powell has an interesting post on the meteorite and on another meteorite related injury in the US in 1954.
Update 11:56 The NC Museum has another local take on the meteorite, describing the 1934 Farmville Meteorite (no relation to the Facebook game)
Update 12:06 The ever-awesome AMNH is doing a live chat now with AMNH geologist Denton
Update 12:10 Fun facts about Chelyabinsk courtesy of Lonely Planet. Apparently it was initially a booming tea-trading city that was renamed Tank City after the Soviet armaments that were built there.
Update 3:32 NASA is holding a press conference about the asteroid and meteor at 4 pm EST today, and you can listen in here.
Phil Plait has a great follow-up blog on Slate. Looks like it did fall on a lake!
That’s all for now folks. I don’t expect that new information will be coming in now.