A meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb Friday, its sonic blasts shattered countless windows and injured about 1,100 people.
The spectacle deeply frightened many Russians, with some elderly women declaring that the world was coming to an end. Many of the injured were cut by flying glass as they flocked to windows, curious about what had produced such a blinding flash of light.
The meteor — estimated to be about 10 tons — entered the Earth's atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph) and shattered into pieces about 30-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement.
The meteor hit less than a day before asteroid 2012 DA14 is to make the closest recorded pass by the Earth for a rock of its size — about 17,150 miles (28,000 kilometers). But the European Space Agency said its experts had determined there was no connection — just cosmic coincidence.
The meteor released several kilotons of energy above the region, the Russian science academy said. According to NASA, it was about 15 meters (49 feet) wide before it hit the atmosphere, about one-third the size of the passing asteroid.
Some meteorite fragments fell in a reservoir outside the town of Chebarkul. The crash left an eight-meter (26-foot) -wide crater in the ice.
The shock wave blew in an estimated 100,000 square meters (more than 1 million square feet) of glass, according to city officials, who said 3,000 buildings in the city were damaged. At one zinc factory, part of the roof collapsed.
The Interior Ministry said about 1,100 people sought medical care after the shock wave and 48 of them were hospitalized. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass, officials said.
There was no immediate word on any deaths or anyone struck by space fragments.
Meteors typically cause sizeable sonic booms when they enter the atmosphere because they are traveling so much faster than the speed of sound. Injuries on the scale reported Friday, however, are extraordinarily rare.
Lessons had just started at Chelyabinsk schools when the meteor exploded, and officials said 258 schoolchildren were among those injured.
Meteroids are small pieces of space debris — usually parts of comets or asteroids — that are on a collision course with the Earth. They become meteors when they enter the Earth's atmosphere. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but if they survive the frictional heating and strike the surface of the Earth they are called meteorites.
The site of Friday's spectacular show is about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) west of Tunguska, which in 1908 was the site of the largest recorded explosion of a space object plunging to Earth. That blast, attributed to a comet or asteroid fragment, is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons; it leveled some 80 million trees.
Scientists believe that a far larger meteorite strike on what today is Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. According to that theory, the impact would have thrown up vast amounts of dust that blanketed the sky for decades and altered the climate on Earth.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the incident showed the need for leading world powers to develop a system to intercept objects falling from space.
"At the moment, neither we nor the Americans have such technologies" to shoot down meteors or asteroids, he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science, called the back-to-back celestial events an amazing display.
"This is indeed very rare and it is historic," he said on NASA TV. "These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don't see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas. "