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One year since meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Saturday, February 15, 2014, 12:28 PM -

Although all eyes have been focussed on the Russian Black Sea town of Sochi for the ongoing Winter Olympics, many people's thoughts on Saturday may be drifting east, to the Siberian town of Chelyabinsk, which wowed the world for a very different reason a year ago.

On February 15, 2013, the skies above this city of more than a million people flashed bright with the explosion of a 10,000-tonne meteor as it broke up in Earth's atmosphere.

The shockwave shattered glass all over the city, sending more than 1,500 people to hospital. Building damage was also reported, and some witnesses actually reported feeling heat from the blast.

This was no simple shooting star. When it finally exploded, the space rock, 20 m across, was travelling more than 68,000 km/h. The blast itself was rated at more than 500 kilotons of TNT ... far more than the approximately 15 kiloton rating of the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945.

According to NASA, the debris plume from the meteor, much of it held aloft by high-atmospheric winds, took only a few days to travel all around the world before reaching the Chelyabinsk region once more:

A fragment of the meteor was recovered from beneath the waters of Lake Chebarkul shortly afterward. Scientists studying the 650-kilogram fragment said it was around 4.4 billion years old, only 115 million years younger than the solar system itself.

The Chelyabinsk event was a huge wake-up call. The very day it arrived in our planet's atmosphere, skywatchers were keeping a close eye on a totally unrelated meteor, 2012 DA14, which was scheduled to buzz the Earth at a relatively close distance. They completely missed the Chelyabinsk meteor until its explosion was immortalized on dashboard and security cameras throughout the city.

And according to researchers at Canada's own Western University, we'll need to be even more watchful. Their findings, released in November, suggested Chelyabinsk-like events are likely to happen every 30-40 years, not 120-150 years as previously thought.

Meanwhile, the Russians are blending both the Olympics and the Chelyabinsk event on Saturday.

Athletes who place first on the one year anniversary will actually be given medals with a piece of the meteor embedded in them, presented in a ceremony separably from the main podium.

Canadian athletes might have a shot at taking home the intergalactic honours. They've been tearing up the tracks and slopes this Olympics, earning four gold medals, five silver and three bronze as of noon Saturday.

TUNE IN: We'll have your Sochi forecast, along with in-Canada news and forecasts, on TV throughout the day.

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