A plunging meteor explodes with a blinding flash above central Russia on Friday, setting off a shockwave that shattered windows and hurt almost 1,000 people in an event unprecedented in modern times, reported AFP.
Divers scoured the bottom of a Russian lake on Saturday for fragments of a meteorite that plunged to Earth in a blinding fireball whose shockwaves injured 1,200 people and damaged thousands of homes.
The 10-tonnes meteor streaked across the sky in the Urals region on Friday morning just as the world braced for a close encounter with a large asteroid that left some Russian officials calling for the creation of a global system of space object defence.
The unpredicted meteor strike brought traffic to a halt in the industrial city of Chelyabinsk as residents poured out on the streets to watch the light show before hovering for safety as a sonic boom shattered glass and set off car alarms. The shattered glass injured most of the people.
"We have a special team working... that is now assessing the seismic stability of buildings," Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov told residents as he inspected the damage in the central Russian city.
"We will be especially careful about switching the gas back on," he said in televised remarks.
A fragment of the meteor -- called a meteorite once it hits the ground -- was believed to have plunged into the Chelyabinsk region's frozen Lake Chebarkul.
"A group of six divers will inspect the waters for the presence of pieces of a meteorite," an emergencies ministry spokeswoman told Russian news agencies moments before the start of the operation.
But Puchkov stressed that no fragments had been discovered anywhere in the region so far despite some 20,000 rescuers and recovery workers being dispatched to the region on Friday.
The meteor explosion appears to be one of the most stunning cosmic events above Russia since the 1908 Tunguska Event in which a massive blast most scientists blame on an asteroid or a comet ripped through Siberia.
Scientists at the US space agency Nasa estimated that the amount of energy released from impact with the atmosphere was about 30 times greater than the force of the nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II.
"We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average," said Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office.
"When you have a fireball of this size we would expect a large number of meteorites to reach the surface and in this case there were probably some large ones," he said in a statement published on the NASA website.
The drama in Russia developed just hours before an asteroid -- a space object similar to a tiny planet orbiting the sun -- whizzed safely past Earth at the unprecedented distance of 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers).
That put it closer to the ground then some distant satellites and sent off alarm bells ringing in some Russian circles about this being the time for joint global action on the space safety front.
"Instead of fighting on Earth, people should be creating a joint system of asteroid defence," the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee chief Alexei Pushkov wrote on his Twitter account late Friday.
"Instead of creating a (military) European space defence system, the United States should join us and China in creating the AADS -- the Anti-Asteroid Defence System," the close ally of President Vladimir Putin wrote.
The US space agency said the 2012 DA 14 asteroid's passing was "the closest-ever predicted approach to Earth for an object this large."
Nasa estimates that a smallish asteroid such as the 2012 DA 14 flies close to Earth every 40 years on average while only hitting the planet once
every 1,200 years.
Astronomers have detected some 9,500 celestial bodies of various sizes that pass near Earth. (AFP)
A 150-foot-wide rock is making an unusually close pass by Earth. You might be able to follow it across the stars in a telescope — with exactly the right preparation.
The Dubai Astronomy Group has organised an observation session at the Al Zubair Camp for viewing Asteroid DA14 – a relatively small asteroid – which is making big news across the world.
The camp will be observing the asteroid between 8pm and 1am tonight [Friday]. Analysts claim that it won’t be easy to spot the asteroid through a telescope, so it’s best to go to the camp where experts will be at hand to help guide members.
This morning, a heavy meteor shower rained down on central Russia on Friday, sowing panic as the hurtling space debris smashed windows and injured dozens of stunned locals, officials said.
The gymnasium-sized rock 2012 DA14, 40 or 50 meters (130 to 160 feet) across, is making the closest Earth flyby of a natural object ever predicted well in advance.
It will pass within 28,500 km (18,000 miles) of Earth’s surface at 19:25 Universal Time (11.25am UAE time) tonight, February 15th. It would have then reached 8th magnitude as it whizzes north across the stars at a rate of 0.8° per minute.
According to various reports, at least 100 people were reportedly ‘injured’ when a meteor streaked across the sky over Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday morning.
The meteor triggered several big explosions, sending fragments falling to earth. Russian Interior Ministry spokesman said more than 500 people hurt in meteorite fall.
There are conflicting reports about what actually happened.
Schools in the Urals area of Russia have been ordered to remain shut for the day as a precautionary measure after reports of the impact blowing out windows of buildings and with temperatures plunging in central Russia to -18˚C (0˚F).
A spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry, Irina Rossius, told The Associated Press that there was a meteor shower, but another ministry spokeswoman, Elena Smirnikh, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was a single meteorite.
Amateur video broadcast on Russian television showed an object speeding across the sky, leaving a thick white contrail and an intense flash.
Russia Today, a news network broadcasting from Moscow and Washington studios, has published this YouTube video showing amateur footage of a bright ball of fire, the meteorite, hitting earth and causing what it says was a series of explosions.
Witnesses said that houses shuddered, windows were blown out and cellphones stopped working just after the meteor shower.