Eight months after a meteorite exploded over central Russia, divers have hauled a large chunk of space rock out of a lake, giving people a look at the extraterrestrial object that caused damage throughout the region. On Feb. 15, a 17-m-wide, 10,000-ton meteorite exploded over central Russia. When the rock hit the atmosphere, it caused a bright flash, and some residents said their first thought was that they had seen the start of a nuclear war. Thousands of small fragments fell throughout the region of Chelyabinsk, breaking windows and injuring about 1,500 people.
One of the largest pieces of the meteor fell into Lake Chebarkul, tearing a massive hole in the ice. On Oct. 16, divers finally hauled the half-ton piece of space rock from 20 m of water. Once outside the lake, the chunk broke into three large pieces when it was lifted off the ground with rope, making it harder to determine the precise weight, but an unnamed scientist told the website lifenews.ru that the meteorite weighed 570 kg. “And then the scale broke,” he said. “We think the whole thing weighs more than 600 kg.” Sergey Zamozdra, an associate professor at Chelyabinsk State University, told the Interfax news agency that the chunk is probably one of the 10 biggest meteorite fragments ever recovered.
The Chelyabinsk meteor wasn’t Russia’s first brush with crashing objects from space. Scientists at the Imperial College of London estimate that meteorites the size of the one in Chelyabinsk hit the earth’s atmosphere about once every 50 years, and Russia was the site of one of the best recorded and most destructive meteor strikes in modern history. In 1908, an asteroid or comet hit the atmosphere and exploded near the Tunguska River in central Russia. In what became known as the “Tunguska Event,” the explosion, believed to be 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, knocked down 80 million trees over more than 5,180 sq km. Scientists estimate that the blast would have measured 5.0 on the Richter scale.
In 1972, a meteoroid entered earth’s atmosphere over Utah in the U.S., traveled north and left the atmosphere over Alberta, Canada. Thousands of people witnessed the fireball, which, like Chelyabinsk, was captured on film. The Great Daylight Fireball didn’t cause any harm, unlike the Chelyabinsk meteor, which damaged more than 7,000 buildings and captivated observers around the world. Clips of the meteor quickly racked up millions of hits on YouTube; one of the videos has more than 38 million views.
Scientists have repeatedly said it’s a matter of when, not if, the earth is struck again by a large meteor or asteroid. Now that they have seen what caused the destructive fireball last winter, people in central Russia are probably hoping if it happens again, it will happen later, rather than sooner.