MOSCOW – Russian divers Wednesday pulled from a murky lake in the Urals a half-ton rock they suspect is part of a meteor whose shock wave injured 1,200 people in February.
The dramatic recovery operation came eight months after a piercing streak of light lit up the morning sky in the central Russian region of Chelyabinsk in scenes that made some locals think of the onset of a nuclear war.
The meteor broke up into myriad pieces — some no bigger than the size of a fingernail — that scientists are still finding across the remote region to this day. Much of the debris landed in a local lake known as Chebarkul, from which the divers pulled the suspected meteorite Wednesday in an operation broadcast live on national television.
Footage showed the team pulling out the 1.5-meter-long rock after first wrapping it in a special casing while still underwater. The boulder was then pulled ashore and placed on a massive scale for the all-important weighing — an operation that quickly went wrong.
The scale broke the moment it hit the 570-kg mark and the rock crumbled into several smaller as scientists maneuvered it via levers and ropes.
“The rock had a fracture when we found it,” one unnamed scientist told the lifenews.ru website in a live broadcast. “It weighed 570 kg before the pieces fell off. And then the scale broke.
“We think the whole thing weighs more than 600 kg,” he said.
Experts warned it will take time before scientists can certify that the rock they pulled from the lake did indeed come from outer space.
The Vesti 24 rolling news channel reported that divers had already recovered more than 12 pieces from Lake Chebarkul since the Feb. 15 incident. Only four or five of those pieces turned out to be real meteorites, the channel said.
But researchers at a local university seemed confident about their latest find.
“Based on our initial observations . . . this is a part of the Chelyabinsk meteor,” Sergei Zamozdra, a lecturer at Chelyabinsk State University, told the Interfax news agency. “This is the largest fragment of that meteor.
“And, most likely, it will be one of the 10 largest meteorites ever found,” he said.
The meteor weighed a whopping 10,000 tons when it exploded a few kilometers above ground with a force equivalent to 30 times the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, at the end of World War II.
American scientists said an object that large usually approaches Earth only once every four decades.
Residents of Chelyabinsk — once a part of the Soviet Union’s industrial heartland that has seen a dramatic slide in living standards of late — have been trying to use the meteor to draw tourists to their isolated region.
A special council made up of scientists and prominent residents this week urged the local government to erect a six-storey-tall statue in honor of the space rock. Chelyabinsk media reports said the council is also hoping to set up special hiking trails for foreign tourists interested in visiting the lake and other spots where debris was found.