‘That’s no meteor, it’s an American weapon test’: Russian politician’s bizarre claim about 10 ton space rock as Cuba claims it was also hit earlier in the week
- Firebrand politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky makes astonishing claim
- 10 ton meteor hit the atmosphere with force of 30 Hiroshima bombs
- 82 of the injured are children and two are in intensive care
- One local said it ‘was like a scene from the Armageddon movie’
- Reports in Cuba of bright lights in sky and ‘loud explosion’ on Tuesday
- Local expert believes evidence points to meteorite
PUBLISHED: 09:41 EST, 16 February 2013 | UPDATED: 12:29 EST, 16 February 2013
A Russian politician has claimed the meteor which struck the country yesterday was actually a clandestine American weapons test while claims have emerged that a sonic boom was also felt in Cuba.
Authorities say a 10 ton space rock, travelling at a speed of 33,000mph, hit the Earth’s atmosphere with a force equivalent to 30 of the atomic bombs which destroyed the city of Hiroshima.
The astonishing event on Friday morning blew out windows in more than 4,000 buildings and injured some 1,200 people, largely with cuts from the flying glass.
But in a twist that reads like a piece of Soviet-era propoganda, firebrand politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky said what really happened was an act of provocation by the U.S.
Zhirinovsky, leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), said: ‘Those aren’t meteorites falling. It’s the Americans trying out a new weapon’.
He backed up his astonishing claim arguing that newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had been trying to reach Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov all day, ‘to warn him that there would be such a provocation, and it might affect Russia’.
Meanwhile, reports emerged from Cuba suggesting the island was also hit by a meteorite earlier in the week.
Locals said on Tuesday there was bright light in the sky followed by a ‘large explosion’ that shook doors and windows.
In a video from a state TV newscast posted on the website CubaSi, unidentified residents of the central city of Rodas, near Cienfuegos, described the skyline phenomenon.
‘On Tuesday we left home to fish around five in the afternoon, and around 8pm we saw a light in the heavens and then a big ball of fire, bigger than the sun,’ one man said.
‘My home shook completely,’ said a woman. ‘I had never heard such a strange thing.’
Marcos Rodriguez, a specialist in anthropology, said all signs point to a meteorite.
A similar phenomenon was observed in 1994 elsewhere in Cienfuegos province.
Cuban authorities are now looking for any fragments that may have fallen to the earth.
It is far from the first time that Russian politician Zhirinovsky has courted controversy.
In 2006 he suggested arming all of Russia’s population and ordering them to shoot migratory birds in a bid to combat bird flu.
He has also suggested removing restrictions on arms sales to Iran and the sale of the disputed Kurile Islands to Japan for $50billion.
Today a small army of workers set to work to replace the estimated 200,000 square meters of windows shattered by the shock wave from a meteor that exploded over Russia’s Chelyabinsk region.
Fifteen of the injured remained hospitalized on Saturday, one of them in a coma, the regional health ministry said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Regional governor Mikhail Yurevich on Saturday said damage from the high-altitude explosion – – is estimated at 1 billion rubles ($33 million). He promised to have all the broken windows replaced within a week.
But that is a long wait in a frigid region. The midday temperature in Chelyabinsk was minus-12 C (10 F), and for many the immediate task was to put up plastic sheeting and boards on shattered residential windows.
Emergency Ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius told Russian news agencies the search hadn’t found anything.
Police kept a small crowd of curious onlookers from venturing out onto the icy lake, where a tent was set up for the divers.
Many of them were still trying to process the memories of the strange day they’d lived through.
Valery Fomichov said he had been out for a run when the meteor streaked across the sky shortly after sunrise.
‘I glanced up and saw a glowing dot in the west. And it got bigger and bigger, like a soccer ball, until it became blindingly white and I turned away,’ he said.
Unexpected sight: A terrifying meteorite shower left a thousand people injured, buildings devastated and the mobile network wiped out when it hit Russia this morning
In a local church, clergyman Sexton Sergei sought to derive a larger lesson.
‘Perhaps God was giving a kind of sign, so that people don’t simply think about their own trifles on earth, but rather look to the heavens once in a while.
‘Nasa estimates the meteor’s impact with the atmosphere released 500 kilotonnes of energy, 30 times the force of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
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.
Before and after: A video showed a street scene in Russia before the meteorite shower struck. Seconds later the street was lit up in a haze of bright white as the large fireball exploded
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.
Smoking: Pictures show a streak of smoke followed by several bright blasts of flames
Injured: A man identifying himself as Viktor poses for a photograph after receiving treatment for injuries after the meteorite shower hit the Russian region
Dr Simon Goodwin, an astrophysicist from Sheffield University, said: ‘While events this big are rare, an impact that could cause damage and death could happen every century or so.
‘It very much depends on where it hits. A big enough meteor could cause significant immediate death and maybe cause climate change by releasing dust into the air – these are maybe every few thousand years.
‘And a really big impact occurs every few ten millions of years and can cause mass extinctions. One killed the dinosaurs.
‘Scientifically this is not hugely interesting. Probably its greatest importance is to make people realise that things fall from space all the time, and every now and then they can be dangerous.
‘And an impact in a heavily populated area could kill huge numbers of people with no warning or chance of stopping it.’
Damaged: A zinc factory in Chelyabinsk was seen with a partially collapsed roof and walls in the morning after meteor pieces rained on the town
Injured: Four schoolchildren were known to have been injured from broken glass
One eyewitness Gulnara Dudka, in her 20s, gave a dramatic account of the meteorite, telling how she feared ‘doomsday’ had arrived, reported the Siberian Times.
‘What was it? People said it was a plane that fell and exploded,’ she said.
‘I saw a bright blast from behind me. Everything was lit up, very bright light.
‘It was like from Armageddon movie when the meteorite rain started, I really thought it was like doomsday.
‘It was so scary especially the explosion. It was very strong. I am speechless. It was so strong. My camera couldn’t reproduce how strong the bang was.’
‘I was sitting at home and typing something on my computer. Suddenly there was a huge bright flash,’ said Konstantin Zharinov, an historian and journalist from Chelyabinsk.
Aftermath: People look at damage to a shop following the meteor shower
‘At first I thought something happened at my neighbours place but a minute later the sound of the explosion came.’
He said ‘many lost their windows, glass is everywhere in the streets’.
Children were left panic-stricken as windows smashed at School Number 15 in Chelyabinsk.
‘First there was an unreal light that lit up all the classrooms on the right side of the school. 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 10 times bigger,’ said teacher Valentina Nikolayeva.
Residents in one 19 storey block reported feeling the shockwaves of the explosions.
The sounds of car alarms and breaking windows could be heard in the area, said a witness, and there were reports that the internet and mobile networks were temporarily down.
Destroyed: The building of the local zinc plant badly damaged by a shockwave from a meteorite impact
HALF A MILLION KILOMETRES AWAY, ANOTHER ASTEROID IS COMING…
At first glance it may seem a more than a coincidence that this meteorite shower has struck Earth just hours before asteroid 2012 DA14 is due to skim past our planet tonight.
Yet astronomers say that a coincidence is all it is.
Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society told MailOnline: ‘As I understand it, the Russian meteorite(s) were travelling from east to west whereas 2012 DA14 will be travelling from north to south.
‘In any case with a 12 hour time difference, the objects are at least half a million km apart, so unrelated.’
His view was backed up by Dr Phil Plait on his Bad Astronomy blog for Slate and the European Space Agency.
The ESA wrote on Twitter (@esaoperations): ‘ESA experts at #ESOC confirm *no* link between #meteor incidents in #Russia & #Asteroid #2012DA14 Earth flyby tonite #SSA #NEO.’
Dr Massey added: ‘So, although the incident in Russia is dramatic and the reports of injuries are unprecedented and awful – there are very few historic reports of people being hurt as a result of meteorites – it doesn’t seem to be at all relevant to tonight’s close asteroid flyby.’
What will happen tonight?
Just before 7.30pm today, a 150ft wide chunk of space rock will whizz past us in the closest shave since records began.
If it hit the planet, it could wipe out a city the size of London and do as much damage as 1,000 of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima.
Nasa has stressed that ‘no Earth impact is possible’ – but scientists say there is a small chance that TV signals may be affected.
The asteroid will cut through the orbit of some satellites used for weather forecasting and for satellite phones and television.
Mobile phones won’t be affected as they rely on land-based masts and cables.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 was discovered last year by a Spanish dentist turned amateur astronomer and has been closely tracked ever since.
Hurtling through space at speeds of five miles a second, eight times as fast as a speeding bullet, it will come within 17,000 miles of Earth at 7.24pm tomorrow.
Astronomy expert Daniel Brown, of Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘In astronomical terms, that’s very close.’
Although the asteroid won’t be visible with the naked eye, it should be possible to see it with binoculars.