According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, on Friday, February 15, a meteor exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk (population: 1 million) in Russia’s central Ural Mountains, injuring hundreds and causing damage to buildings in six 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.
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 west of Chelyabinsk.
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.
According to AIR, 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.
The meteor hit less than a day before an asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, will make a near pass by Earth—possibly approaching as close as 17,150 miles. This 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. DA14 will not be perceptible to the naked eye, though it will be visible from Asia, Eastern Europe and Australia with the aid of binoculars.
According to AIR, the last time an object of a size similar to DA14 hit the earth was also in Russia, and is known as the Tunguska event. In June 1908, the asteroid, which was estimated at 100 meters 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.
AIR continues to monitor this event and will provide updates as warranted.
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