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The Russian Academy of Sciences is estimating the meteor that streaked into the skies over the Ural Mountains and caused shock waves that injured more than 400 people weighed about 10 tons (11 tons avoirdupois). (AP Photo/Chelyabinsk.ru)

Report: 1,000 injured as meteor falls in Russia

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The Russian Academy of Sciences is estimating the meteor that streaked into the skies over the Ural Mountains and caused shock waves that reportedly injured more than 1,000 people weighed about 10 tons (11 tons avoirdupois).

The academy said in a statement hours after the Friday morning fall that the meteor entered the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph) and shattered about 30-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above ground.

CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood explained to KIRO Radio Seattle's Morning News that while the meteor exploded when it hit the earth's atmosphere, the force from such an event can still cause significant damage.

"When you get something this size, it hits the atmosphere and it kind of pancakes," said Harwood. "The thing will literally explode in the air and you get a shock wave, you get the sonic boom, and of course in this case, it caused quite a bit of damage in Russia."

Meteors typically cause sizeable sonic booms when they enter the atmosphere because they are traveling much faster than the speed of sound. Injuries on the scale reported Friday, however, are extraordinarily rare.

The fall caused explosions that broke glass over a wide area. Around 1,000 people reportedly sought treatment after the blasts and at least 34 of them were hospitalized.

Some meteorites, fragments of the meteor, fell in a reservoir outside the town of Cherbakul, the regional governor's office said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. It was not immediately clear if any people were struck by fragments.

Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Kolesnikov said about 600 square meters (6000 square feet) of a roof at a zinc factory had collapsed. There was no immediate clarification of whether the collapse was caused by meteorites or by a shock wave from one of the explosions.

Reports conflicted on what exactly happened in the clear skies. A spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry, Irina Rossius, told The Associated Press that there was a meteor shower, but another ministry spokeswoman, Elena Smirnikh, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was a single meteor.

Amateur video broadcast on Russian television showed an object speeding across the sky about 9:20 a.m. local time (0320 GMT), leaving a thick white contrail and an intense flash.

Some noted that the meteor hit less than a day before the asteroid 2012 DA14 is to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid -- about 17,150 miles (28,000 kilometers).

"It's another sign that we kind of live in a shooting gallery," said CBS' Harwood. "It certainly is an eye opening event and quite a coincidence since as you know there is an asteroid flying by later today."

But the European Space Agency, in a post on its Twitter account, said its experts had determined there was no connection.

Small pieces of space debris, usually parts of comets or asteroids, that are on a collision course with the Earth are called meteoroids. When meteoroids enter the Earth's atmosphere they are called meteors. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but if they survive the frictional heating and strike the surface of the Earth they are called meteorites.

Harwood told the Seattle's Morning News staff that these events happen pretty frequently, but we don't always see them.

"The world is 75 percent ocean, things come in over the ocean nobody sees it, or in a remote area. But every single day the scientists tell us more than 100 tons of material falls into earth's atmosphere," said Harwood.

The drama of this highly visible event prompted an array of reactions from prominent Russian political figures. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at an economic forum in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, said the meteor could be a symbol for the forum, showing that "not only the economy is vulnerable, but the whole planet."

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist leader noted for vehement statements, said "It's not meteors falling, it's the test of a new weapon by the Americans," the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Many at the scene didn't know how to react.

"People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people's houses to check if they were OK," said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, about 1500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow, the biggest city in the affected region.

"We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound," he told The Associated Press by telephone.

Another Chelyabinsk resident, Valya Kazakov, said some elderly women in his neighborhood started crying out that the world was ending.

The Associated Press, and Max Seddon in Moscow contributed to this story.


Jamie Skorheim, MyNorthwest.com Editor
Whether it's floating on Green Lake, eating shrimp tacos at Agua Verde, or taking weekend drives out to the Cascades, she loves to enjoy the Pacific Northwest lifestyle as much as humanly possible.
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