The Chebarkul object

Last week, an object exploded in an aerial fireball and emitted a sonic boom which impacted the city of Chelyabinsk in central Russia, leaving almost 1,500 people injured and damaging many buildings. A poll by the unsensationalistic Russian daily newspaper, Noviye Izvestia, revealed that almost half of readers believed it was no meteorite

Alexei Grazhdankin, assistant director of the independent Moscow polling agency, the Levada Center, said, “Our people remember the Soviet past, when news of disasters was concealed or lied about.” Past polls had found that as many as a quarter of Russians are UFO believers. Grazhdankin added that many people choose not to give credence to “the safe explanations” heard at school.

The “meteorite” came close to a Bombardier CRJ-200 airliner approaching Chelyabinsk airport. The pilot, Captain Alexander Arkhipov of Ak Bars Airlines, said that he felt its heat but his airplane was not delayed.

Scientists said the object weighed 10,000 tons and was composed of chondrite, which is 90 percent stone and 10 percent iron. It broke into around seven large sections, one of which fell into Lake Chebarkul near the city of the same name, and the object has been thus named. A 26-foot hole in the ice of the lake was created. Police are still guarding the lake to prevent people from interfering with the scene before testing by scientists dispatched by Moscow is possible.

Scientists from the Urals Federal University who traveled to Lake Chebarkul without being invited by the government said that the 50-ish pieces they found were fractions of an inch wide and emitted an abnormal degree of radiation, indicating unearthly provenance. Divers have discovered nothing.

Supposed fragments of the object have been peddled on eBay. The Voice of Russia reported that prices extend as far as $16,000. Collectors will be eager to obtain a fragment. Film director, Steven Spielberg, is one noted collector. In October, 2012, a nine-inch piece of the Seymchan meteorite discovered in Siberia in 1960 sold in New York for $43,750.

Vendors claimed to have worked at crash sites or obtained the fragments from locals, but authenticity cannot be verified. Some ads are blatant fakes, such as that of a 440-pound piece. People who found fragments are not always prepared to sell them. One woman told a reporter from the Russian television channel, Rossiya-24, “’I will keep it. Why sell it? I didn’t have a rich lifestyle before, so why start now?”

One local said, “No, it definitely wasn’t a meteor. I don’t know what it was, but not that.” There are various other explanations. In the Noviye Izvestia poll, one third of people said they believed the object was a Russian missile test run amok or a satellite. The senior Orthodox bishop of Chelyabinsk, Feofan, insisted the “meteorite” was a reminder from God: “From the Scriptures, we know that the Lord often sends people signs and warnings via natural forces.” The trade unionist newspaper, Trud, suggested that malevolent aliens had married the object to deadly extra-terrestrial viruses.

The ultra-nationalist Russian political leader, Vladimir Zhironovsky, suggested that the impact was the result of a U.S. secret weapon. Conspiracy websites were happy to pick this up, saying that the event was caused by a “god rod” made of depleted uranium and dispatched from an orbiting U.S. platform.

Might it have been a UFO? It looked like a UFO. The last one was a UFO. YouTube footage and various UFO websites claimed it was a UFO. Scientist, Yury Lavbin, head of the Tunguska Space Phenomenon organization, said that a UFO was involved with the Chebarkul impact, just like at Tunguska in 1908.

Lidiya Rykhlova of the Institute of Applied Astronomy in Moscow said that such events always prompt “mysticism” and that “the UFO believers are an old one.” Anyone who believes the Chelyabinsk thingy involved a UFO will not find themselves short of company, and it is such a fun thing to say.