The explosion of the Chelyabinsk Meteor, which nearly hit Russia in 2013, was a viral event captured by dozens of dash cams in the notoriously driver-unfriendly nation. However, the surprise arrival of the extraterrestrial invader, and the city-quaking explosion that followed, was no laughing matter. The Chelyabinsk Meteor’s size, a paltry 20 meters in diameter, might make it sound relatively harmless, but it had a massive impact on the city, without even touching down. Had the entirety of the meteor, instead of just a few meteorite fragments, hit Earth, Chelyabinsk would have likely been decimated.
The 2013 Russian meteor did a lot more than shock the citizens of Chelyabinsk and delight the denizens of the internet—it injured more than a thousand people and caused millions in property damage. With a flash brighter than the sun and a blast more powerful than an atomic bomb, the Chelyabinsk meteor provided humanity with a sobering reminder of the destructive potential of outer space.
Just how powerful was the blast from the Chelyabinsk Meteor? The magnitude of its explosion was even more powerful than a weapon of mass destruction. The blast was at least 30 times more powerful than the blast from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the conclusion of World War II.
Considering the damage caused by the attack, one can only imagine what would have happened had the meteor actually hit Chelyabinsk.
Although the Chelyabinsk Meteor exploded before it could hit Earth, it was a relatively near miss. The meteor exploded less than 20 miles above the planet’s surface and Chelyabinsk itself, raining down smaller meteorites across the area.
In the realm of astrophysics, where interstellar objects regularly travel millions of miles during their cosmic journeys, a difference of 20 miles is rather insignificant, making it an incredibly close call.
The arrival and explosion of the Chelyabinsk Meteor was so surprising because it was pretty much impossible to see coming. Scientists have long warned that meteorite impacts, or even those from larger asteroids, could happen pretty much anywhere at any time without much warning.
Because of the meteor's orbit, it approached Earth from the direction of the sun. Combined with the relatively small size of the object, there was no way astronomers could see it coming until it was too late.
The citizens of Chelyabinsk first noticed the meteor's extreme brightness. Before it exploded, the space rock lit up the morning sky with an enormous flash. In fact, the meteor’s fireball was approximately 30 times brighter than the sun, which can cause vision damage.
The flash caused temporary blindness in a number of observers, along with retinal and skin burns from the exposure. One woman even had skin burned off of her face.