Flaming meteorites crashed to the earth Feb. 15 after a 10-ton meteor exploded in the sky, injuring hundreds and reportedly prompting fears of an alien invasion.
In scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster, a series of explosions rocked the skies above the Ural Mountains and sparked panic in three major Russian cities, Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen’. The health chief in Chelyabinsk told the Associated Press that 985 people sought medical attention after meteorites slammed into a region of Central Russia, and 43 were reportedly hospitalized with minor injuries.
Witnesses described how buildings shook, glass shattered and cell phones and Internet connections stopped working in the early-morning incident. Amateur footage was also posted of an object causing windows to break before crashing into a wall at a zinc factory. All injuries were thought to be mainly due to broken glass, and initial radiation levels were reported as normal. Testing will continue throughout the day, though, officials said.
The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates the meteor weighed roughly 10 tons. In a statement, the academy said the meteor entered Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of at least 33,000 m.p.h. (54,000 km/h) and shattered about 18 to 32 miles (30–50 km) above ground. The Chelyabinsk region is located 930 miles (1,500 km) east of Moscow; it is a populous region known for its mineral deposits and heavy industry.
Russia Today published unconfirmed reports that the meteor was blown to pieces by a missile salvo from an air-defense unit at the Urzhumka settlement near Chelyabinsk while at an altitude of 20 km. The channel also said some onlookers thought a UFO was responsible for the spectacle, but both reports were widely thought to be false.
Russia’s Emergency Ministry reported that 20,000 rescue workers were operating in the area to help alleviate any impact from the incident, and three aircraft were surveying the area to prioritize efforts. “According to preliminary data, the flashes seen over the Urals were caused by [a] meteorite shower,” the Emergency Ministry told Itar-Tass news agency.
Chelyabinsk regional authority published a message on its website that urged residents to pick up their children from school and remain at home.