Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Fragments of a Russian meteorite that streaked across the sky over central Russia and then broke into millions of pieces are now part of an exhibit at the Clark Planetarium called “The Sky Is Falling.”
On Feb. 15, a blinding light and booming shockwave exploded in the sky over central Russia. The meteorite, the size of a convenience store, exploded over Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,500 people, mostly from flying glass.
The planetarium has three pieces, along with a shard of the shattered glass, in a new display case.
"Everybody wants this,” Clark Planetarium director Seth Jarvis said, “and anybody who has a meteorite collection, a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, that's a must have."
Earth gets hit daily by objects from space, and the planetarium has a good collection of space rocks. But these new pieces are special.
“It’s significant because this was the biggest object to enter Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska (Siberia) explosion," Jarvis said.
It’s estimated the original object was about the size of a convenience store, “so think of a 7-Eleven made out of rock flying through space,” he said. It weighed about 11,000 tons and was travelling 45,000 mph when it entered the atmosphere.
The rock exploded into millions of pieces, which were spread out over an area of 100 square miles. The biggest pieces are probably the size of a person’s fist, he said.
The meteorite is a type of material called a "chondrite," a rocky aggregate with silicon, nickel and iron particles. It dates back to the beginnings of the solar system, about 4.6 billion years ago, Jarvis said. It is something no one can really put a price tag on.
“A meteorite dealer will tell you that it's so many hundred dollars per gram," he said, "but for us, I think educationally and scientifically and historically, it would be priceless.”
The meteorite will play a role in the upcoming Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. On Feb. 15, 2014, the one-year anniversary of the explosion, there are seven Olympic events. Seven meteorite-embedded gold medals will be awarded that day in the speedskating, cross-country, ski jumping, super-G and skeleton competitions.
All other gold medals awarded during the Winter Games will look like the special medal but will have no space rock in them.
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