Author`s name Lisa Karpova

Understanding the meteorite's havoc in Russia

Experts explain the reasons that led to the large number of wounded and the relationship of the event with the asteroid passing 27,000 km of Earth...

A meteorite fell in Russia on Friday (15th), causing a shockwave that broke windows and injured over a thousand people in the region of the Ural Mountains. In Chelyabinsk, about 1500 km east of Moscow, the largest city in the affected region, there was panic, because people did not know what was happening.

What is the difference between meteors and meteorites?

Meteors are pieces of rock from space, usually from large comets or asteroids entering the Earth's atmosphere. Many are glowing from the heat of the atmosphere. Rare are those that cause a shock on entering the Earth's atmosphere colliding with the Earth's crust, these are called meteorites. Meteorites always hit the ground with great speed, more than 30,000 kilometers per hour, according to the European Space Agency. They also release a lot of energy.

Is it common for meteorites fall from the sky?

Experts say small shocks occur from five to ten times per year. Major impacts, like this in Russia, are more rare, usually occuring every five years, according to Addi Bischoff, mineralogist at the University of Muenster, Germany. Many of these incidents occur in uninhabited locations and therefore cause no injury to humans.

What caused the problems in Russia?

Alan Harris, a scientist at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, said that most of the damage was caused by the explosion of the meteor as it entered the atmosphere.  The explosion caused a shockwave that broke windows and made glass and objects fly through the air within a radius of several kilometers. At the time that the fragments hit the ground, they were too small to cause significant damage in places away from the impact site, said the scientist.

Was there any relationship between this event and the asteroid that passed close to Earth on Friday?

No, this is just a cosmic coincidence. According to the spokesman for the European Space Agency, Bernhard von Weyhe, there is no relationship whatsoever between the asteroid and meteorite 2012DA14 in Russia.

When was the last time there was something comparable to meteorite that hit Russia?

In 2008, astronomers reported spotting a meteor coming to Earth about 20 hours before it entered the atmosphere.  It exploded in Sudan and caused unknown effects.

The largest meteorite fall known was one that crashed in Tunguska, Russia in 1908. But even this meteorite, which was much larger than what befell the Ural Mountains, on Friday, did not hurt anyone.

Many scientists believe that a very large meteorite may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. According to this theory, the impact would have released large amounts of dust that covered the sky over decades and changed the Earth's climate.

What can scientists learn from the event this Friday?

Bischoff says that scientists and treasure hunters are probably already racing to find pieces of the meteorite. Some fragments of meteorites can be very valuable, coming to cost more than $670 per gram, depending on their composition. As the meteors have remained virtually unchanged for billions of years - unlike Earth rocks that have been affected by erosion and volcanic outbreaks - scientists are interested in studying its fragments to learn more about the origins of the universe.

What would happen if a meteorite hit a metropolis?

Scientists hope that it never happens, although they are getting ready to face such an event. Von Weyhe, spokesman for the European space agency says experts from Europe, the United States and Russia are still discussing how to monitor potential threats early and warn people. But they do not expect a Hollywood-style mission that has the intention of launching a nuclear bomb to blow up an asteroid.

"This is a global challenge and we need to find a solution together," said Weyhe. "But one thing is certain, the method used by Bruce Willis in the movie Armageddon, does not work."

Translated from the Portuguese version by:

Lisa Karpova