Residents: ‘It’s like end of the world’ – Fireball from the sky injures 1000 as it explodes over a terrified town (PHOTOS)
Some feared a plane was about to fall out of the sky while others thought the world was ending.
In fact, it was a meteor streaking across the sky before exploding in a fireball brighter than the sun.
The terrifying sight was caught in these astonishing pictures by residents of central Russia as they headed to work yesterday.
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A thunderous ‘sonic boom’ shattered windows, rocked buildings and interrupted mobile phone networks.
Almost 1,000 people were injured by flying fragments of glass and rubble – at least 112 seriously.
Footage taken by ‘dashcams’ – dashboard cameras common in the cars of Russians in case of accidents on winter roads or disputes with corrupt traffic police – mean the supersonic blaze has been captured, and shared with the world, in unprecedented detail.
The burst of light and thunderous sound were caused by a 40-ton meteor penetrating the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of at least 33,000mph.
As it raced through the sky, the 50-foot wide chunk of space rock compressed the air ahead of it, creating the enormous temperatures that meant it exploded in a fireball somewhere between 18 and 32 miles above the ground at around 9.20am local time.
Although some debris fell to earth, ‘whipping up a pillar of ice, water and steam’ and creating a 20-foot-wide crater, the damage in nearby towns was actually caused by shockwaves created by the meteor breaking the sound barrier and then exploding.
One resident of the city of Yekaterinburg, in the Ural mountains, said: ‘I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day. I felt like I was blinded by headlights.’
Some believed the world was ending and video footage posted online showed screaming youngsters at a school where corridors were littered with broken glass.
Gulnara Dudka, a resident of Chelyabinsk, 930 miles east of Moscow and the biggest city in the affected region, said: ‘I really thought it was doomsday.’
Teacher Valentina Nikolayeva, who tried to protect her pupils from the force of the blast said: ‘There was an unreal light that lit up all the classrooms.
‘That kind of light doesn’t happen in life, only at the end of the world – then a trail appeared like from a plane but only ten times bigger.’
The emergencies ministry said that more than 20,000 rescue workers had been dispatched to locate and help those injured in Russia’s industrial heartland and an area that houses nuclear and chemical weapons disposal facilities.
Amazingly, there were no fatalities and most of the wounded were hurt by flying glass – some 1.8million square feet of which will have to be replaced.
Russian news networks noted that the meteor struck just hours before the Earth was due its closest recorded shave with an asteroid.
However, space experts said the arrival of the much larger asteroid was merely a coincidence.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, of Queens University Belfast, said there was ‘almost definitely’ no connection between the exploding meteor and asteroid 2012 DA14.
‘This is literally a cosmic coincidence, although a spectacular one,’ he said.
Russia’s emergencies ministry described the event as ‘a meteor shower in the form of fireballs’ and urged residents not to panic.
Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said the meteor could be a symbol for the vulnerability of the economy – and the ‘whole planet’.
Meanwhile, the deputy prime minister quashed suggestions that the military had tried to shoot the meteor out of the sky, saying that, as yet, no one has the technology.
And Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken nationalist leader, said: ‘It’s not meteors falling. It’s the test of a new weapon by the Americans.’
British experts said that thousands of tons of material from space rains down on the Earth each day, but nearly all of it burns up and disintegrates far from the view of the naked eye.
Occasionally a meteor can come so close that its explosion is felt, as happened yesterday, or a small meteorite or large asteroid can actually hit the planet.
Read more: UKMail