A meteor streaked across the sky and broke up Friday morning over the Ural Mountain city of Chelyabinsk, unleashing a tremendous shock wave that smashed windows, collapsed roofs and injured at least 1,200 people.
The intense flash of light was recorded on video as far away as Nizhny Tagil, nearly 300 miles to the north. The trail of the meteor was also visible in Kazakhstan, more than 80 miles to the south.
The Russian Interior Ministry said late in the day that at least 1,200 people were hurt. The Health Ministry said 48 were hospitalized.
The Russian Academy of Sciences estimated that the meteor weighed around 10 tons and was traveling at 10 to 12 miles per second (roughly 30,000 to 45,000 mph) when it disintegrated.
Searchers found a circular hole in the ice, 15 to 20 feet across, in a lake west of Chelyabinsk, and roped it off.
Residents of Chelyabinsk were drawn outdoors at 9:20 a.m. local time, as a double contrail stretched across the sky. Then came the bright flash, followed a few long moments later by the sound and shock of a huge explosion. Videos posted on Web sites recorded a cacophony of shattering glass, hundreds of car alarms and a considerable amount of swearing. Many of the videos were from dashboard cameras that many Russians use to document accidents.
Video footage of the meteor was caught by multiple cameras on the dashboards of residents’ cars. Olga Khazan explains why so many Russians have dash-cams to begin with:
All of the available footage raises the question, why do so many Russians have dashboard cameras?
Answer: to prove who was at fault in car accidents.
Basically, Russia’s motorists are a different breed. Russia has one of the highest car-accident rates in the world, a fact that Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and current prime minister, once blamed on the “undisciplined, criminally careless behavior of our drivers,” as well as poor road conditions. Hit-and-run crashes are incredibly common, as apparently are crafty, car-related hustles. Drivers of already dented cars will back purposefully into other cars in an attempt to extort money from their owners. Pedestrians will throw themselves on car hoods at crosswalks and then lie on the asphalt, pretending to be injured.
Cutting off or otherwise offending a fellow motorist occasionally leads to full-on brawls in the middle of the road.
And in court, dash-cam footage is the most reliable way to prove what really happened.
Not everyone is convinced that the bright flash and destruction was caused by a meteor, though. A Russian parliament member says the meteor was actually a U.S. weapons test. Max Fisher reported:
No sooner do we write about the conspiracy theories flourishing on Russian social media about the meteor, which sailed over central Russia on Friday, than an actual member of the Russian government weighs in with his own. Or so the Moscow-sponsored outlet Voice of Russia says. Here’s its report:
Russia’s controversial Liberal leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has blamed Americans for today’s meteorite scare, local media report.
“Those were not meteorites, it was Americans testing their new weapons,” Mr. Zhirinovsky confessed to journalists.
Zhirinovsky further posited, according to the story, that new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had attempted to tell Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the “test” in advance. Lavrov has reportedly been dodging Kerry’s phone calls for a few days now.