Early this morning, local time in the Ural region of Western Russia (just after midnight in these parts), near the cities of Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg, a bus-sized meteor estimated to weigh about 10 tons streaked across the sky as bright as a welding-arc, entering the atmosphere at 33,000 mph and then fragmenting in a massive explosion that sent countless meteor and meteorite fragments fireballing to Earth.
The shockwave shattered windows over a wide area, damaging buildings and injuring more than 950 people in the cities of Chelyabinsk, Tyumen, and Sverdlovsk in the Russian Republic of Bashkiria and in northern Kazakhstan. At least one fragment of the huge meteor or small asteroid crashed into a Chelyabinsk zinc factory, severing the fiber-optic internet phone service. Check out this amazing video montage from several points of view:
It's not just YouTube that offers videos of the event (that's a search-query link); LiveLeak.com has a great collection of videos, too.
Here's the CNN story. Here's the Sky & Telescope Magazine story; and here's the Reuters story.
Witnesses report that the explosion was so loud it resembled an earthquake or thunder even at a great distance, and that huge trails of smoke streaked across the sky. Others reported blazing objects falling to Earth. Police in area around Chelyabinsk are on high alert, and have enacted the "Fortress" plan in order to protect vital infrastructure.
Some astronomers are saying that this small asteroid was a straggler from the annual Quadrantid meteor shower - talk about a big fireball! (Sorry I neglected to provide a heads-up about this shower, as it's usually one of the best, but work has buried me pretty much since before the semester started.)
This huge meteor or small asteroid has no relation to Asteroid 2012 DA14 (despite the title of the YouTube video, above), set to blast past Earth so close that it could hit some of our satellites. Follow the link above to Sky & Telescope Magazine's website to learn how to watch this asteroid skim past us tonight. It is as big as a building - 150 feet wide - so big that if it hit our atmosphere, it would release 2.4 megatons of energy, comparable to the 1908 Tunguska event, which released an estimated 3 to 20 megatons of energy. So Asteroid 2012 DA14 is not a world-killer, but today's far-smaller event in Russia gives us a taste of what it might be like to be in the vicinity of such a thing.
EDIT: Here's the NASA TV story about the asteroid fly-by:
Space-based defenses, anyone?