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'The end of the world?': Terror over Russian meteor
by Dmitry Zaks and Stuart Williams
Moscow (AFP) Feb 15, 2013

Footage is viewable here

Toll from Russia meteor strike unprecedented: expert
PARIS, Feb 15, 2013 (AFP) - A meteor strike in central Russia on Friday that left hundreds of people injured is the biggest known human toll from a space rock, a British expert said.

But the impact has no connection with a flyby by an asteroid later Friday, according to Robert Massey, deputy executive secretary of Britain's Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

"I am scratching my head to think of anything in recorded history when that number of people have been indirectly injured by an object like this... it's very, very rare to have human casualties."

Small space debris burns up harmlessly in the sky as it enters the atmosphere, appearing in streaks of light called meteors that can often be seen on a clear night, he said.

But, very rarely, larger objects survive the early stage of descent before exploding in the lower atmosphere, causing a shockwave, which is what happened on Friday, he said.

According to Russia's ministry of emergencies, almost 500 people were injured by flying glass as the windows were blown in.

Very much bigger objects -- such as the rock that notoriously ended the reign of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago -- can smash into the Earth, delivering the energy of an arsenal of nuclear weapons, but these again are even rarer.

Massey, basing his estimate on news reports, said Friday's object was in all probability less than 10 metres (30 feet) across before it collided with Earth.

"It's unprecedented to have something like this happen over an inhabited area and cause damage in this way," he said in a phone interview from London.

"Events like this are not common -- there were several large falls in the 20th century, at least two of which were over Siberia -- but two-thirds of the Earth is ocean, so we tend to miss them."

Massey said there was no need for alarm over the event.

He stressed he saw "absolutely no connection" between the event in the Chelyabinsk region and asteroid 2012 DA 14, which was to skim the Earth on Friday at a distance of around 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometres), the closest known flyby by a space rock.

"It happened 12 hours earlier, and that amounts to half a million kilometres (300,000 miles) of travel, (and) it seems to have been travelling in a different direction -- east-west, whereas the asteroid tonight will be travelling south to north," said Massey.

|"I was driving in the car across the square. Suddenly the square lit up with a bright, bright light, not a normal light," said Chelyabinsk resident Vasily Rozhko.

Witnesses of the falling meteor over the Russian Urals spoke of their shock and horror Friday at seeing a giant bright light in the sky that many thought was a crashing plane, followed by a loud explosion that blew out windows in many buildings.

"There were literally three or four seconds of bright light, then back to normal," Rozhko told Russian television. "As I could see from the car, this trail appeared. Then when I was driving, the explosion went off."

Officials initially made no announcement about the source of the explosion, sparking frenetic speculation among locals, as members of the public turned to the Internet to post homemade videos.

"It was as if a super-fast rocket flew past. One rocket flew past and then another one," one caller, Galina Mikhailova, the told Echo of Moscow in Chelyabinsk radio station soon after the incident.

"We were so scared, we ran out into the hallway... we heard booming explosions," said another caller to the station, who did not give her name.

The first to report the incident were members of the public, the acting head of the emergency situations ministry in the neighbouring Sverdlovsk region, Valery Ustinov, told regional news website.

"At 9:20 am (0320 GMT) the calls began that people had seen a fiery trail and possibly unidentified objects falling to Earth."

Witnesses posted videos filmed on cell phones showing the flash and the white trail across the blue morning sky.

-- 'What was it -- a plane?' --

Gulnara Dudka filmed the trail of the meteorite over Chelyabinsk, as witnesses shouted "Did something blow up?" and "What was it -- a plane?" in a video she posted on YouTube.

A minute-and-a-half after she began filming, a huge explosion rolled, triggering a chorus of car alarms, followed by several smaller blasts.

"My God!" Dudka can be heard saying. "I thought it had already fallen."

She wrote on YouTube that she began filming a couple of minutes after seeing the flash in the sky.

Life News website posted video footage of children screaming in Chelyabinsk School Number 15 corridor and glass and pieces of wood from blown-out windows lying on the floor.

"First there was an unreal light that lit up all the classrooms on the right side of the school. That kind of light doesn't happen in life, only at the end of the world, then a trail appeared like from a plane but only 10 times bigger," teacher Valentina Nikolayeva, told Life News.

"First I thought it was a plane falling, but there was no sound from the engine... after a moment a powerful explosion went off," said another Chelyabinsk witness, Denis Laskov.

"In a lot of the houses on our street the windows were blown out."

"Panic has begun in the city because it knocked out many windows. People are freezing, you can imagine there aren't windows in hundreds of apartments," an unnamed witness in Chelyabinsk said in a televised phone call.

"There was such a bang, it felt absolutely as if there had been an explosion a few floors higher. The room literally started shaking, a thick layer of dust fell on the floor, furniture and windowsills," Chelyabinsk journalist Yelena Borisova told Channel One television.

The leader of rock band Smysloviye Gallyutsinatsii from the Urals main city of Yekaterinburg, Sergei Bobunets wrote on a social networking site that he saw the flash from Yekaterinburg.

"I was smoking outside the door when I looked up at the sky and suddenly the sky lit up with a bright light and something that looked like the Sun fell somewhere to the south of Yekaterinburg. Did anyone see it? What was it?" he wrote.


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