Speeding meteor injures hundreds in Chelyabinsk, Russia — and it could have been worse

Posted at 6:33 PM, Feb 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-15 18:34:10-05

Scientists say a meteor traveling more than 35,000 miles per hour exploded about 20 miles above Chelyabinsk, Russia.

The shock waves shattered glass and damaged buildings on the ground, leaving hundreds injured.

But Denton Ebel, curator of meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History says the damage could have been much worse.

“It’s an air burst very close to a large city.  Chelyabinsk is lucky they got off so lightly,” Ebel said.

The rare astronomical event was captured on amateur cameras throughout Russia.

Russian meteor

Rhe Russian meteor was traveling at 35,000 miles per hour.

Arlin Crotts, a professor of astronomy at Columbia University, says even though it lost some of it’s mass as it entered the atmosphere, the 15-meter meteor, was moving so fast that it sent ripples of energy through the air as it exploded over the city.

“The whole thing just explodes all at once and maybe a half or a third of the original energy that it had coming into the atmosphere is just dumped into this explosion,” Crotts said.

The meteor burst comes the same day as a massive asteroid, about half the size of a football field, passed the earth at a very close range by space standards.

Denton Ebel

Denton Ebel , curator of meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History, says the damage could have been much worse.

“A cosmic coincidence, they’re traveling at different trajectories so one is not a small piece of the other,” he said. “You certainly wouldn’t want it to hit your city, but it’s not something that’s going to take out all of humanity or a region.”

And, even though the asteroid is about the same distance from Earth that some of our satellites orbit, scientists say it won’t pose any risk for our planet.

Still, they say knowing that an object of this size will pass so close to Earth in advance, helps them study the asteroid and prepare for future events.

“This guy doesn’t have our name written on it, and it’s too small to do some global damage, but down the road you don’t know what’s coming.”