10 Incredible Facts About The Meteor That Exploded Over Russia

As much as I love Twitter and Facebook–I had to go ‘the real experts’ on this one!

I’ve spent hours reading reports and interviews of folks from various arms of NASA, including the Marshall Space Flight Center and experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Here Are Ten Incredible Facts About The Meteor That Exploded Over Chelyabinsk, Russia.

  • Russian Meteor Fact #1: NASA has upgraded the estimated size of this meteor: apparently it was a 55 foot space rock (17 meters).
  • Russian Meteor Fact #2: It entered the atmosphere above Russia traveling about 40,000 miles per hour. (Source: NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office)
  • Russian Meteor Fact #3: The meteor was in the atmosphere a mere 32.5 seconds before it exploded. (Source: University of Western Ontario, Canada)
  • Russian Meteor Fact #4: The meteor weighed an estimated 10,000 tons; that’s 20-million pounds! Wow. (Source: NASA.gov)
  • Russian Meteor Fact #5: The meteor’s explosion was more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Lead NASA researcher Bill Cooke told CBS News the blast was the equivalent of 300,000 tons of TNT. That’s at least 20 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
  • Russian Meteor Fact #6: The meteor exploded 12 to 15 miles – 20 to 25km – above the earth’s surface. Source: NASA
  • Russian Meteor Fact #7:  Here is how an explosion at least 12 miles up blows out windows on earth. Bill Cooke of NASA told CBS News: “When it broke apart, this produced a violent explosion. In the vicinity of 300 kilotons of energy (now revised to 500 kilotons), which produced a shock wave that propagated down as well as through the atmosphere. And when it propagated down, this shock wave struck the city below causing large numbers of windows to be broken, some walls to collapse and minor damage throughout the city.”
  • Russian Meteor Fact #7: Thank nuclear weapons for scientists’ ability to figure out how powerful the explosion was.  Uh, say what? Well, this is what Bill Cooke of NASA says: “There are nuclear test ban treaties forbidding nuclear tests. So international agencies established a network of infrasound stations all over the globe designed to detect big explosions in the atmosphere. As you can guess, with an energy of 300 kilotons this is similar to a nuclear explosion in magnitude.”
  • Russian Meteor Fact #8: The first infrasound station to detect this explosion was in Alaska, 4,000 miles (6,500km) away from the actual blast.
  • Russian Meteor Fact #9: This was a 100 year event. Paul Chodas with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said this: “We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years, on average.”
  • Russian Meteor Fact #10: It’s likely some of this meteor hit the ground. If that’s proven, we’ll reclassify this as a ‘meteorite.’  JPL’s Paul Chodas says, “When you have a fireball of this size we would expect a large number of meteorites to reach the surface and in this case, there were probably some large ones.”


Those meteorites will be worth a lot of money and have high scientific value as well. I’m sure those who hunt meteorites have already booked their flights. Perhaps they’re on the ground in Russia right now.

As I discovered all these amazing facts I was left wondering: what if this thing had exploded over a major city? Above Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Vancouver B. C., Boston, New York, Los Angeles–or how about Portland or Seattle. Can you imagine the damage?

Well, maybe we won’t have to worry about it in our lifetime. NASA & JPL scientists believe this meteor in Russia had a bigger impact than any since 1908.  That’s when a 150 foot chunk of space rock slammed the atmosphere and detonated above Siberia. It’s know as the Tunguska event. The shock wave from that one leveled millions of trees over 800 square miles.

So after reading all this, what are you thinking? Are you re-assured that this is rare? Or worried now that you know what an impact even a ‘small’ meteor can have as it explodes miles up?


  1. Penny Forrest says

    Thank you, Bruce. Having all that info in one place is great. It is neither frightening nor worrying….can’t worry about what we can’t do anything about.
    Thank you.

  2. says

    Really fascinating facts, thank you. I hate to think if something like that happened around here. I’m not sure if I feel comforted that it won’t happen it the near future since this one was under the radar, so to speak.

    • says


      I think I’m with you. Even the idea of a ’100 year event’ does not mean only once every 100 years and you’re done. Sometimes the events come close together then there’s nothing for 200 years, etc. So that has me wondering, too!

      Thanks so much for taking time to post. I appreciate it!

  3. Marel Kalyn says

    Thanks Bruce for this great research. Am a numbers and data person, so really enjoyed the 10 facts. You ask are we worried? Rationally, no, as an event of this magnitude makes worrying an exercise in futility, putting our usual concerns into perspective. Emotionally, not so cut & dried. The lives affected in Russia will be intensely affected both negatively and positively with hopefully more compassion for life. Overall, people will still go about their lives, but deep in every human heart (in some very deep) is the innate knowledge of how vulnerable and mortal are our lives and the life of our planet. This event should humble us all in our various pursuits but make us enjoy them even more as we realize how fortunate we are to be given another day.

    • says


      I hadn’t really thought about it until you wrote it. But you’re right. This is a humbling event. Kind of the way I feel after going through a decent sized earthquake. There are greater forces at work and we are just a small part of that playing out. But after a ‘close call’ we are reminded how precious life is!

      Thanks for taking time to read and comment.

  4. STaci says

    As this is fascinating, I still have one more unanswered question. As scientists were fully aware of the trajectory, timing, size, etc, etc of the asteroid 2012 DA14, how was this meteor a surprise??? How did they not see this coming?!? Especially with the SIZE! I don’t get that part. The “nearby flyby” of the asteroid was the same day (as was the meteorite that hit NE USA the same day!) I’m not fearful or worried, I’m baffled that this was such a surprise.

    • says


      As it turns out, this was a much smaller NEA (Near Earth Asteroid) than anyone’s really looking for or cataloguing. This one was about 55 feet. You asked a great question…and here’s the answer from a NASA site that talks about cataloguing and tracking these Asteroids. WIth the apparent cutoff being rocks about 1km–more than 3,000 feet!

      FAQ: What about smaller, more frequent impacts?

      NASA Answer: “The Spaceguard Survey and most associated search and tracking programs are concentrating on NEAs larger than 1 km in diameter — large enough to risk a global ecological catastrophe if one of them hit the Earth. But there are many more smaller undiscovered NEAs, and we are likely to be hit somewhere on Earth by one of these, with an energy equivalent to a large nuclear bomb, sometime in the next couple of centuries. The last such impact was in 1908 in Tunguska ( Siberia ) with an estimated explosive energy of 15 megatons. The actual risk to each of us from Tunguska-like impacts is very small — much less than the risk of larger impacts, and indeed much less than the risk from many common natural hazards, such as earthquakes and severe storms. Nevertheless, there are people who are interested in this problem. In 2003 NASA completed a study of these sub-km impacts and concluded that it was both technically feasible and cost-effective to to mount an expanded Spaceguard Survey, with much larger telescopes, to search for these smaller asteroids.”

      Maybe this event will change things. Seems like a good idea at this point!

  5. Irina says

    I’m from Chelyabinsk. And I can say that the city really got a lot of damage (mainly windows) because of this meteorite. I try not to think what would have happened if it had exploded closer to the surface or even landed in Chelyabinsk. The results would have been disastrous – Chelyabinsk itself has a population of more than 1 mln citizens and there are a lot of industrial plants in the city. And we have a nuclear waste plant just few km away.

    • says


      Irina, I had no idea how populated your area is. I hear what you are saying: had this thing held together or been bigger, then huge pieces might have crashed right into Chelyabinsk. This truly was a world event that people around the globe are talking about. We are so thankful that everyone survived. You have a story to share that will be handed down for generations. Thankfully it did not involve the nuclear waste plant.

      Take care and thanks for taking time to read the blog and share you comments!


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