15 February 2014, 14:56

Chelyabinsk asteroid fall anniversary: Sochi champions get meteorite medals

Chelyabinsk asteroid fall anniversary: Sochi champions get meteorite medals

February 15th is one year since what came to be known as the Chelyabinsk meteorite exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. In Sochi, Olympic champions will be awarded medals with small fragments of the meteorite on February 15. The anniversary is also being marked in the Urals. The meteorite fragments were scattered for hundreds of kilometers around, with the biggest one diving into Lake Chebarkul and piercing the sludge.

On that cold and sunny morning of October 15th 2013, the meteorite appeared from nowhere. First came the flash, 30 times brighter than the sun, followed by the bang. Mobile phones went silent, and many thought a nuclear war had broken out, a Chelyabinsk resident Lyudmila told the Voice of Russia correspondent.

"I saw a flash and thought a war had broken out. I was awfully scared. According to the first radio reports, it was a plane that exploded over Chelyabinsk. Finally, it transpired that a meteorite had hit the Earth".

Experts claim that the residents of Chelyabinsk and the environs were lucky that the meteorite had entered the atmosphere on a shallow trajectory; otherwise the more than 11,000 ton celestial body travelling at a speed of some 19 kilometres per second could have wiped the city off the face of the Earth. The meteorite exploded with a force of around 20 times that of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or some 300 kilotons of TNT equivalent. Some 2,000 people were injured, with many having cuts from flying glass.

It became known almost at once that a big chunk of the meteorite fell into a lake near the small city of Chebarkul. A tender was put out for recovering the celestial body. The tender was won by a Yekaterinburg-based team of professional divers who weren’t able to get down to work for some time, for one reason or another. Now it grew cold, now the weather was bad, with giant waves rolling over the lake. The divers even suspected interference by extraterrestrial intelligence. It was October when they finally searched the lake and found a 650-kilo meteorite fragment deep in the sludge.

It took another month of daily diving and underwater work for hours on end before the divers finally recovered the 650-kilo meteorite chunk they had found at the depth of more than 20 metres. Experts in Chelyabinsk confirmed the fragment was of extraterrestrial origin and was ordinary chondrite, or stony meteorite. The chunk was then put on display at the city museum, causing protests from the followers of the recently set-up Church of Chelyabinsk Meteorite who claimed that the celestial body was a heavenly message, which should not be ignored, according to the head of the new "church", Andrei Breiva. This is what he said in particular.

"By analogy with the Bible, we call this package the Testimonies. After all, Moses got a similar information package in his time. His package contained a stone, but not just a stone like any other, but one that had symbols on it, which were a special message for the people. And this is what Moses worked on. The world has since changed a lot and calls for transformations. The spiritual knowledge that had been available before has dwindled. Today’s fragment surely contains new scientific knowledge, as well as a code of legal and moral standards that will help people live better in every way. What matters most is that from now on the spiritual and scientific knowledge will become an organic whole".

Although passions around the meteorite have since subsided, the first year of its arrival was marked by exhibitions. Nor have researchers wasted their time and have unearthed some mysteries of the Universe by studying the celestial body. They will be able in the future not only to predict the arrivals of unwelcome guests, but will possibly understand how we could avoid disastrous collisions with them.

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