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 space—a meteor—streaked 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 incident was not related to 2012 DA14, a 45 meter (150 foot) diameter asteroid that was expected to make its closest approach to Earth—17,200 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.