The Sky Really Was Falling!
The largest meteor to hit Earth in more than a century breaks up over Russia
TOP PHOTO: Most of the meteorites are believed to have landed in frozen Lake Chebarkul. (ITAR-TASS / Anton Butsenko / Newscom)
BOTTOM PHOTO: Meteorites can sell for as much as $2,200 per gram. (RIA / Newscom)
MAP: Chelyabinsk lies about 930 miles east of Moscow, Russia’s capital. (Jim McMahon)
Residents of Siberia received the shock of their lives on Friday when a meteoroid hurtled to Earth from outer space. Meteoroids are small to medium size rocks that move around in outer space. This one was the largest to hit the planet since 1908, and it exploded over the icy region of eastern Russia with the power of 20 atomic bombs.
Meteors are usually small, but the one that fell over Russia was about the size of a bus. Scientists estimate that it weighed 10,000 tons.
In the nearby town of Chelyabinsk, windows in people’s homes shattered when the space rock passed. Nearly 1,500 people were injured in the blast, mostly by shards of window glass. Officials estimate that the meteor strike caused about $33 million in damage.
Viktor Prokofiev lives in the city of Yekaterinburg, about 120 miles away from Chelyabinsk. “I was driving to work; it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day,” he tells the news agency Reuters.
The word meteor is used to describe the meteoroid once it enters Earth’s atmosphere as well as the streak of light it produces. When you see a “falling star,” that’s actually a meteor event.
The leftover chunks that survive their trip through the atmosphere and land on the surface of the planet are called meteorites. Most of the meteorites from Friday are believed to have landed in frozen Lake Chebarkul.
The meteor fallout has caused a “meteorite rush” in Siberia. Treasure hunters are searching around Chelyabinsk for the rare rocks. Meteorite fragments can sell for as much as $2,200 per gram. That’s about 40 times the current price of gold per gram!
Friday’s Siberian meteor event occurred at about the same time that an asteroid passed extremely close to Earth. An asteroid is a large, rocky object that orbits around the sun. Meteoroids are smaller than asteroids and may actually be chunks of rock that were once part of an asteroid.
Scientists say that the two events occurring at the same time was a cosmic coincidence. The trajectories, or paths, of the objects were opposite each another, indicating they were unrelated.
“This is indeed very rare, and it is historic,” says Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA, the U.S. space agency. “These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don’t see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas.”