A meteoroid broke up in the atmosphere over the
Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Friday morning,
injuring nearly a thousand people as it lit up the sky
and sprinkled fragments over the city.
Mikhail Yurevich, regional governor of Chelyabinsk,
said up to 950 people suffered injuries from flying
glass and debris as windows exploded from the
The toll is believed to be the largest number of
people ever injured by space debris. “I am
scratching my head to think of anything in recorded
history when that number of people have been
indirectly injured by an object like this,” said Robert
Massey, deputy executive secretary of Britain’s
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).
“It’s very, very rare to have human casualties” from
a meteorite, he said.
Mr Yurevich said that two-thirds of the injuries were
light wounds from pieces of glass and other
materials. In the city of Chelyabinsk alone, 758
people had required medical help, the city said in a
statement on its website. Sixteen were hospitalised,
including three children.
Video footage taken by residents on dashboard
cameras in cars and mobile phones in the Urals city
showed a meteor streaking through the sky, and
then a blaze of light followed later by the sound of
explosions and breaking glass.
A warehouse wall at a zinc factory in Chelyabinsk,
900 miles east of Moscow, collapsed from the force
of a blast and at least one school had its windows
blown out, injuring children.
Local residents expressed their shock and fear on
social media. “I thought the world was about to
end!” said one. One video showed residents
swearing and shouting “It’s a bombardment!” at the
sound of an explosion which sets off car alarms.
Lyudmila Belkova, a kindergarten teacher, told
reporters: “I was giving a PE lesson when I saw a
white streak in the sky through the window, and
then there was a bright flash. I shouted at the
children, ‘Lie on the floor and close your eyes!’ And
then there were five or six explosions. Some of the
kids raised their heads but I shouted at them to
keep their eyes closed.”
Schools and kindergartens were closed and about
20,000 rescue officials were put on high alert, while
the city’s internet and mobile phone services were
“It was a meteoroid that burned up as it approached
the Earth and broke into pieces,” an emergencies
ministry official told news agencies. The object,
which disintegrated at about 32,800ft, left a clear
double trail in the sky.
Police said they had initiated “Operation Fortress”,
increasing security at strategic buildings.
It was unclear if fragments of the meteor reached
the ground, or if shock waves alone had caused the
damage. Some witness spoke of dust and small
pieces of debris falling. The regional governor’s
office said one part of the meteoroid had fallen in a
lake near the town of Chebarkul, 50 miles west of
“This was a very bright bolide that was perfectly
visible in the light morning sky; the object was
quite big with, apparently, a mass of many tens of
tons,” Sergei Smirnov of St Petersburg’s Pulkovo
Observatory told Russian state television.
Another scientist said it most likely weighed “a few
tons” and was probably made of iron.