Russian Meteor: Rushing to Cash in on the Blast

Residents hope city will be tourist destination; others seek meteor bits.

ByABC News
February 16, 2013, 11:32 PM

CHELYABINSK, Russia, Feb. 17, 2013— -- The shattered glass and broken walls caused by the massive explosion of a monstrous meteor over this remote, industrial Russian city is not even cleaned up, and people are already trying to cash in.

Some residents want to turn this city known mostly for its tank factory into a tourist destination, while others from all around the world are determined to find fragments of the meteorite.

Meteor hunters say it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. A small piece of the space rock that exploded over Russia Friday could be worth thousands of dollars, and bigger chunks could fetch hundreds of thousands.

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"I haven't been able to sleep for the last two days because of this," said Michael Farmer, who runs the website Meteor Hunter. "This is a once in a lifetime event. We've never seen anything like this in the last hundred years."

He said he started planning a trip to Chelyabinsk as soon as the meteorite exploded.

"The next morning I was on the phone working on visas. I'd like to get a visa and get over to Russia as quickly as possible," he said. "When this type of thing happens, you know hours count so we try to arrange that as fast as possible."

A day after a massive meteor exploded over this city in central Russia, a monumental cleanup effort is under way.

Authorities have deployed around 24,000 troops and emergencies responders to help in the effort.

Officials say more than a million square feet of windows -- the size of about 20 football fields -- were shattered by the shockwave from the meteor's blast. Around 4,000 buildings in the area were damaged.

The injury toll climbed steadily on Friday. Authorities said today it now stands at more than 1,200. Most of those injuries were from broken glass, and only a few hundred required hospitalization.

According to NASA, this was the biggest meteor to hit Earth in more than a century. Preliminary figures suggest it was 50 feet wide and weighed more than the Eiffel Tower.

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NASA scientists have also estimated the force of the blast that occurred when the meteor fractured upon entering Earth's atmosphere was approximately 470 kilotons -- the equivalent of about 30 Hiroshima bombs, but it did not cause major damage because it occurred so high in the atmosphere.

"This was caused by a small asteroid, about 15 meters in diameter, coming in at around 18 kilometers per second, that's in excess of 40-thousand miles per hour," NASA planetary scientist Paul Abell said. "As the asteroid comes in, it interacts with the atmosphere and effectively it converts all the energy, the kinetic energy of the asteroid, the mass of the asteroid and the velocity and it's actually that velocity, the asteroid just effectively explodes and that creates the pressure wave, the blast wave that comes down."

Treasure hunters hoping to cash in on the bits of space rock aren't the only ones eager to find pieces of the meteor, Abell said. Scientists say the material could offer valuable information.

"One of the things we'd like to learn is first of all, what was the composition of the asteroid, where did it come from," he said. "We know it came from the asteroid belt but can we link it to a bigger asteroid and also, get an idea of the dispersal pattern."

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Residents said they still can't believe it happened here.

"It was something we only saw in the movies," one university student said. "We never thought we would see it ourselves."

Throughout the city, the streets are littered with broken glass. Local officials have announced an ambitious pledge to replace all the broken windows within a week. In the early morning hours, however, workers could still be heard drilling new windows into place.

Authorities have sent divers into a frozen lake outside the city, where a large chunk of the meteor is believed to have landed, creating a large hole in the ice. By the end of the day they had not found anything.