Local whiz kid explains Russian meteor incident

KUSA - Scientists have found more than 50 tiny fragments of a meteor that exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains, and preliminary tests are turning up information about its contents.

"They can learn what type it is, what the origin is by what type of asteroid it is. It's really important to find out what type it is as soon as they can," Nick Gordanier said.

Gordanier is a 12-year-old whiz kid from Colorado. He studies everything having to do with science and - more specifically - meteors. He teaches at school and even helps out the Meteorite Men, which is a show that airs on the Science Channel.

Despite Gordanier's interest in the type of meteor it is, Russians seem more interested in the black market value of the fragments. As they search for their own pieces of the meteor, sales offers already are filling the Internet, and police are warning all purchasers to prepare for possible fraud.

"An ounce of the meteor would go for about $2,200. They're worth a lot," Gordanier said.

The meteor - which injured nearly 1,500 people and caused widespread property damage in Chelyabinsk city on Friday - was the largest recorded space rock to hit Earth in more than a century. Health officials said 46 of the injured remain hospitalized.

Viktor Grokhovsky, who led the expedition from Urals Federal University, said Monday that 53 fragments of the meteor have been plucked from the ice-covered Chebarkul Lake. He said they are less than a centimeter (half an inch) in size, about 10 percent iron, and belong to the chondrite type, the most common variation of meteorites found on Earth.

Friday's meteor left a six-meter-wide (20-foot-wide) hole in the ice covering the lake. Divers inspecting it have found nothing at the bottom, but Grokhovsky said a fragment as large as 50-60 centimeters (20-24 inches) could eventually be found there.

Meanwhile, workers in the city remained busy replacing acres of windows shattered by a powerful shockwave caused by the meteor's strike, which NASA said released 500 kilotons of energy, the power equivalent to more than 30 Hiroshima bombs.

The local governor estimated the damage at 1 billion rubles ($33 million) and said he hopes the federal government will provide at least half that amount.

Lidiya Rykhlova, head of the astronomy department at the Moscow-based Institute for Space Research, said experts have drafted a program that envisages building new powerful telescopes, including space-based ones, to warn against potentially dangerous asteroids, comets and other threats. The 10-year program would cost 58 billion rubles ($1.9 billion).

That huge price tag has raised many eyebrows, drawing a sarcastic post from Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader and opposition leader. "You'd better fix roads in Chelyabinsk. Holes on them cause more damage than 100 meteorites," he said.

Rykhklova, speaking to online Gazeta.ru, dismissed Navalny's sarcasm, saying the Chelyabinsk fireball highlighted the need for quick creation of such an early warning system.

Gordanier also explained what happened the day of the meteor.

"When the meteor is miles above the surface, the fire goes out miles about the surface too and enters something called 'dark flight,' so it's not really hot when it lands on the ground. [The loud boom is caused because] it's going through the Earth's atmosphere, and the sonic boom is caused when the meteor is breaking its own sound wave. "

Gordanier also describes the light flash that happens as the meteor hits the earth.

"It's making something called a 'strength field' which is where small meteorites with less mass and inertia are landing first and the bigger ones are landing at the end."


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