Meteorite Hits Russia And Injures More Than 500 People

A meteorite zoomed across the Russian skies over the Ural Mountains early morning Friday, Feb. 15, exploding mid-flight and injuring more than 500 people.

Scientists estimated that the meteor weighed as much as 11 tons and shattered as it entered Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 33,000 miles per hour. The flaming pieces of rock destroyed glass as they flew by, then made contact with several buildings, damaging numerous structures in the area.

"There was panic. 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 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow, to the Associated Press.

"We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound," he added.

Of the 514 people who have currently sought medical treatment, Reuters reports that 112 have been hospitalized. Most of the other injuries were caused by shattering glass and weren't serious.

What caused the event isn't quite clear yet. One spokeswoman for the Russian Emergency Ministry said there was a meteor shower, while another reported that the event was produced by just one meteor.

For his part, Donald Yeoman of NASA's Near Earth Object Program said that it's likely one meteor entered the atmosphere before breaking into multiple pieces.

"If the reports of ground damage can be verified, it might suggest an object whose original size was several meters in extent before entering the atmosphere, fragmenting and exploding due to the unequal pressure on the leading side vs. the trailing side (it pancaked and exploded)," said Yeoman. "It is far too early to provide estimates of the energy released or provide a reliable estimate of the original size."

The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin pointed to the event as a sign that nations around the world need to work together and create technology that enables humans to shoot down meteors and asteroids as they make their way toward Earth.

The meteorite struck the same day space watchers planned to fix their eyes on the stars to watch asteroid 2012 DA14 zip past the planet. DA14 will not make impact with Earth, and the European Space Agency has already reported that the two events are unrelated.

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