Russian scientists collect, study pieces of meteor

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MOSCOW — Russian scientists declared today that they have found and established the composition of pieces of the meteor that exploded over the Chelyabinsk region last week, injuring hundreds of people and causing millions of dollars worth of damage.

Over the weekend, 53 tiny pieces of dark porous material were collected near Chebarkul Lake, 60 miles west of Chelyabinsk, the regional center, officials said. The biggest of the finds was 7 millimeters long.

The samples were without doubt meteorites, Viktor Grokhovsky, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences meteorite committee, said this morning.

“We are certainly dealing with the debris of the object that traveled here from outer space, and, based on the initial examination, we can now say that the object was a regular chondrite, which contained at least 10 percent metallic iron and nickel alloy as well as shrysolite and sulfite,” Grokhovsky, who is a professor at Yekaterinburg-based Urals Federal University, said in a phone interview. “We sent our team to the lake as soon as we heard of the meteor falling, as it is extremely important to find and study fresh debris resulting from the explosion.”

In the wake of the explosion Friday, area residents discovered a 24-foot-long hole in the thick ice on the lake, and some claimed to have seen something large fall into the water.

Police cordoned off the lake the same day, and a team of divers worked all day Saturday to try to retrieve any part of the meteor they could find at the bottom of the lake. But divers were not able to find anything they thought might be a piece of the meteor, officials said.

“The fact that the divers’ initial inspection produced nothing absolutely doesn’t mean a big chunk of the meteorite is not there, and I am absolutely confident it should be there now that we have established its solid composition,” Grokhovsky said. “The divers involved in the search were not scientists and they simply didn’t know what to look for.”

Grokhovsky said the particles that he and his colleagues studied showed signs of melting, indicating that “they most likely were parts of the meteor’s surface.”

“We certainly need to take another go at the bottom of the lake as soon as possible and do it as professionally as we can,” Grokhovsky added, with a complaint about a lack of funding to do the expensive research on his own.

He said scientists were planning to name the meteorite Chebarkul, because the largest part of the meteor is believed to have fallen into the lake.

The search for meteorites was not only being carried out by officials and scientists. Some enterprising local residents were offering what they claimed to be fresh meteorite pieces for sale online for as much as the equivalent of $10,000 a piece.

The meteor entered Earth’s atmosphere Friday morning over north Kazakhstan and traveled over the vast territory of Russia before exploding over the Ural Mountains region. It was about 55 feet wide with a weight of about 10,000 tons, NASA said, estimating the power of the blast at 500 kilotons, or as powerful as an explosion of several nuclear bombs.

The shock wave from the blast damaged thousands of homes and buildings, shattering windows of structures within an estimated 1,000 square feet. Hundreds suffered minor injuries.

A woman who suffered a broken spine was flown to Moscow for surgery and treatment, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

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