Earth Matters

Meteor Fragments Blaze Over the Ural Mountains

February 15th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

An image from the SEVIRI instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Meteosat-10 geostationary satellite. The vapor trail left by the meteor is visible in the center of the image. Credit: European Space Agency/EUMETSAT

Around 9:20 a.m. local time on February 15, 2013, a blazing mass of rock from spacea meteorstreaked across the sky over the Ural Mountains in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia. The burning mass produced a loud sonic boom and shock wave that blew out windows in multiple cities and towns. Russian media outlets are reporting hundreds of injuries, most minor, and damage to thousands of buildings.

Bill Cooke, the head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Flight Center, said that the object, which likely came from the asteroid belt, had a diameter of about 15 meters (50 feet) and weighed about 7,000 metric tons. When it encountered the top of Earth’s atmosphere, it was moving 18 kilometers (11 miles) per second and left a vapor trail that was approximately 480 kilometers (300 miles) long. It lasted in the atmosphere for over 30 seconds before breaking up 25 kilometers (15 miles) above the surface, producing a violent explosion that released about 300 kilotons of energy. Most of the fragments burned up as they passed through the atmosphere, but some meteorites did reach the surface. One reportedly left an impact crater that was 6 meters (20 feet) in diameter.

The SEVIRI instrument on the European Space Agency’s Meteosat-10 geostationary weather satellite captured a view (top of this page) of the vapor trail.  Dramatic videos and photos of the incident have also popped up on the internet.

The incident was not related to 2012 DA14, a 45 meter (150 foot) diameter asteroid that was expected to make its closest approach to Earth17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers)at 2:25 p.m. EST on Feb 15, 2013. The trajectory of the Russian meteor was significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14.

If you would like to learn more about 2012 DA14, tune into NASA Television starting at 2 p.m. EST. For general background about near-Earth objects, see these FAQ’s from NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.

For more information:
Live Updates from RT
Moscow Times
NASA Press Release
NASA Press Conference
RIA Novosit
Russia Beyond the Headlines
Slate: Bad Astronomer



11 Responses to “Meteor Fragments Blaze Over the Ural Mountains”

  1. Nick says:

    So the big question is…

    Was this meteor tracked or observed prior to impact?

    We hear a lot about how space fragments and minor meteors are routinely tracked.

    Was this one missed? If so why?

    Look forward to your reply. Thank you for allowing me to comment.

    • Adam Voiland says:


      Nature News has a good piece that explains why it was missed. In short, it was too small for the monitoring systems. Read more here:


    • Jason Kracke says:

      Despite popular belief, It is rare for someone to be lucky enough to observe an asteroid in space and even more rare not to lose it immediately. The solar system is an immenselly large place and there just aren’t that many people looking into the skies. This is why pluto wouldn’t be found for hundreds of years after the other planets and why moons are still being found in our own solar system. Asteroids are even harder to see because they don’t produce flashes of light until they hit our atmosphere. This makes them nearly impossible to see unless they happen to cross the path in front of another star or planet. It’s very rare to see them and even more rare that someone will know what they are looking at. It is safe to conclude that we have only witnessed a very small fraction of the asteroids that have passed close to earth.

  2. justin says:

    I have a feeling it might have been missed because of the fuss about DA14…. bit of a distraction 🙂

  3. iqbal says:

    how did it burst?

    • Jason Kracke says:

      The meteoroid that passed into earths atmosphere was a common chondrite which make up nearly 85% of the meteorites that have hit earth. It was composed of only 10% iron for which as beings on this earth, is good news for all of us. If it had been 90% iron, we may have seen worldwide climate change and the dust would have covered the earth. luckily chondrites, are more susceptible to stress. While compressional strenth of these alien objects maybe high enough to make it through the atmosphere, the tensile strength was low. As the object passed into the atmosphere, the hydrogen gas and water molecules expanded inside the body forcing it to break apart. A bad analogy is how an alligator can hold something between his teeth effortlessly however, cannot break a rubber band wrapped around its mouth. An alligator has a large compressional strength but very low tensile strength to open his mouth if something is wrapped around it.

  4. aciek says:

    quisiera trabajar en la nasa y aprender de todo lo que pasa .

  5. Mark says:

    What’s sobering to me it that this object was so small as to be in a class not tracked by our space watchers and yet released circa 17 times more energy than the Hiroshima A-Bomb.

  6. Steven says:

    NASA only has the budget to watch 20% of the sky! It’s a really big sky and no one had any idea about that meteor. It broke up since it came into the Earths atmosphere at a low angle. It was traveling at over 5 miles per second and had the kinetic energy of a 700 KLT nuclear warhead! The average person has no clue about the danger that meteors and comets pose to the Earth. If that lager 250 foot meteor would have hit the impacted the Earth instead of just barley missing, it’s kinetic energy would have flattened 750 square miles! It can happen any day and we would never know what hit us! People never worry about the possibility of a Gamma Ray Burst hitting the Earth. Of course if one was going to hit the Earth, once again there would be absolutely no warning since they travel at the speed of light. The planet would simply get cooked!

  7. saulo says:

    Existem possibilidades de um récem mestrado em metereologia pela faculdade federal de pelotas rs brasil fazer doutorado na NASA?

  8. EMILIO NETO says:

    I’m Antonio EMILIO NETO, Brazilian, I live in Brussels, Theodore verhaegem, saint Gilles, Belgium. I do not have scientific training or higher, or any thing of the genre. (Just curious). My curiosity led me to search, and research I discovered things wonderfully amazing.
    I discovered through geographical studies and researches of maps, and the google EARTH, also a curious detail in Xinjiang Uygur province (CHINA). I noticed that a vast desert surrounded by mountains that extend from Kazakhstan to MYANMAR (Himalayas), has aspects of an impact of a meteor.
    Also I might observe mountain ranges that clearly demonstrate that there has been an intense flow of volcanic lava (magma) that extend from points in the province, until the States of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and most of the territories of Turkey.
    Curiously across the Himalayas, also I observed the same type of relief and volcanic lava flow aspect, in the territories of Myanmar, Viet Nam, Laos and Thailand.
    The most curious is that this chain of mountains (Himalaya) is geographically located at an angle of almost 380° degrees, which do not match with similar characteristics to clash between tectonic plates. and the territories of India not presents any modification on the surface, only the elevations of the mountain chains of the Himalayas almost vertical.
    Noticed also that the aspects of the collision are in opposite position of the axis of rotation of the Earth (the northeast to the Midwest) which stresses the idea of rotating time reduction, thereby increasing the force of gravity on Earth.
    Interestingly, in recent years were found meteors in the same Chinese province, and there are also reports of shells of marine animals found at the top of Mount Everest, and minerals abundant in the surface that only we can find in the lower layers of the Earth.
    I have no doubt that there was an impact of a meteor, which in my opinion, was responsible for the separation of the continents and by the elevaçao of the Himalayas.
    I also believe that the sediment covered a wide area very rich in biosphere thus forming the oil tanks in the territories will, Iraq and Saudi arabia.
    There is also the possibility of being responsible for the dinosaurs facing extinction, since the climate became ostil and little favourable to life of large animals because of the possible increase in the force of gravity, giant tides and earthquakes.
    If proven these “my treorias” completely change the thoughts we have about the formation of continents and of the hymalaias, perhaps even how they formed the seasons, as the impact occurred in reverse the rotating earth. and the days and nights as we know it, could be quite different than they are today.