A report from catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide analyzes the factors involved and the damages produced over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk (population: 1 million) on Friday, February 15. In a rare event a meteor exploded over the city in Russia’s central Ural Mountains, injuring hundreds and causing damage to buildings in six other cities. According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, the massive meteor weighed 10 tons and entered the earth’s atmosphere at a speed as high as 33,000 mph [52,800 km/h]. [IJ Ed note: half the weight times the square of the speed equals the kinetic energy produced.]
AIR explained that most “of the damage was caused by the shock waves as the meteor broke up in the atmosphere. The force of the explosion was enough to shatter dishes, televisions, and windows. According to local officials, more than 725 people in in the city of Chelyabinsk alone have sought attention for injuries, mostly from glass shards. Authorities have cancelled school and asked residents to stay indoors.
“The explosion is estimated to have shattered more than 1 million square feet of glass. Preliminary reports suggest that more than 3,000 homes and business sustained damage from broken glass, including a zinc factory where part of the roof collapsed. As many as 20,000 people have been dispatched to search for places where meteorites (fragmented meteors) might have fallen. The governor of the Chelyabinsk district reported that a search team found an impact crater on the outskirts of a city about 50 miles |80 kms] west of Chelyabinsk.”
AIR said the “last meteorite strike was recorded in Sudan in 2008. Astronomers spotted a meteor heading toward Earth about 20 hours before it entered the atmosphere and it exploded over the vast African nation. Hundreds of smaller meteorites strike the Earth’s surface every year, although only 10 to 20 are detected. Such meteorites usually reach the surface having been burned down by the atmosphere and are too small to cause damage.
Although such an event is relatively rare, AIR noted that “in many countries with developed insurance markets, a comprehensive multi-peril insurance policy generally will cover all risks that are not specifically excluded, meaning that meteorite damage would generally be covered. The dwelling portion of the homeowner policy is very broad and, if damage from falling objects is not listed in the exclusions, it is generally covered.” [IJ Ed. note: The Russian government has given a preliminary damage estumate of one million rubles [app. $32.2 million].
The meteor hit less than a day before an asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, made a near pass by Earth — possibly approaching as close as 17,150 miles. AIR said the “massive space rock, which is 150 feet wide, is one of the largest known asteroids to approach the planet. According to the European Space Agency there is no connection between the asteroid and the meteor that hit Russia. On average, objects of this size pass this close to Earth once every 40 years, and strike the planet once every 1,200 years.
“The last time an object of a size similar to DA14 hit the earth was also in Russia, known as the Tunguska event, it occurred in June 1908. An asteroid, estimated at 100 meters [331 feet] in diameter, burst in the air over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Krai region. It was the largest such hit in recorded history.”
Source: AIR Worldwide
IJ Ed. Note: Thanks to the number of dash cams thrust into use across Russia, the entire world was able to see the fireball and the explosions caused by the meteor as it broke up over Chelyabinsk within minutes of the event.