A Massive, Spectacular Meteor Exploded Above Russia This Morning

By Alex Pasternack

While the world waits for an asteroid large enough to destroy a city to graze the orbits of our television satellites, citizens of Central Russia were greeted early this morning by a more mortality-shaking kind of astronomical event: a giant meteorite exploding across the atmosphere in a spectacular fireball, brighter than the still-rising sun, blowing out windows and injuring as many as 400 people [update – the latest estimates from Sky put the number of injured at 524, 82 of whom are children and two are in intensive care].

‘‘A serious meteor fell,’’ Sergey Galitskiy, the billionaire CEO of OAO Magnit, Russia’s biggest food retailer, wrote on Twitter. ‘‘At our hypermarket in Emanzhelinsk, windows were blown out, the roof shook, there was a strong shock wave.’’

The object, which was thought by some at first to be a military fighter jet crash or a missile explosion or UFOs, wasn't related to the giant asteroid that is set to pass Earth later on Friday, also known as 2012 DA14: it was simply a stunning coincidence. Technically, the object was a meteorite, a piece of rock as large as a boulder that causes a visible trace as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. That trace is called a meteor, and the pieces that make it to Earth are known as meteorites.

According to some reports, writes state-sponsored radio station The Voice of Russia, the meteor was intercepted by a missile fired from an air defence facility at Urzhumka village near Chelyabinsk, "at an altitude of 20 kilometres". "Witnesses reported a sudden change in atmospheric pressure upon the impact that made their ears pop. The space object hit the ground with a tremendous crash that resembled thunder and earthquake, damaging houses in Chelyabinsk and cutting off communications, witnesses say. Residents of Emanzhilinsk, a town 50 kilometres away from Chelyabinsk, said they saw an object high in the sky that suddenly burst into flames, broke apart and fell to Earth."

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