It came from outer space! Really!
The spectacle deeply frightened many Russians. Some elderly women declaring that the world was coming to an end. Many of the injured were cut by flying glass as they flocked to windows to see what the reason was for such an intense flash of light.
The meteor - estimated to be about 10 tons - entered the Earth's atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph. It shattered into pieces about 25 miles above the ground.
Meteroids are small pieces of space debris - usually parts of comets or asteroids - that are on a collision course with the Earth. They become meteors when they enter the Earth's atmosphere. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but if they survive the frictional heating and strike the surface of the Earth they are called meteorites.
"There was panic. People had no idea what was happening," said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million about 930 miles east of Moscow.
"We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud, thundering sound." he said.
Scientists believe that a far larger meteorite strike in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. According to that theory, the impact would have thrown up vast amounts of dust that blanketed the sky for decades and altered the climate on Earth.
Critical thinking challenge: How did the meteor break glass?
- Posted on February 15, 2013