MOSCOW: Russian authorities halted their search on Sunday for the meteoroid that spectacularly struck the Chelyabinsk region last week, leaving about 1200 people injured and damaging about 5000 buildings.
Scientists said its shock wave was a loud warning that they hoped would inspire action to prevent potential catastrophes.
”When a small piece of rock would fall on the Earth 100 years ago, it could have caused minimal damage and would have stayed largely undetected but Friday’s accident fully demonstrated how vulnerable the technological civilisation of today has become,” the head of the space monitoring laboratory at Moscow State University, Vladimir Lipunov, said.
”It is high time Russia should start heavily investing in building an advanced space-danger monitoring and warning system and, above that, a system capable of destroying such super bombs falling on us from the skies.
”We should be thankful to fate that this meteor, in fact, was a blessing in disguise and, instead of destroying a significant part of Russia with quite dire consequences to the rest of the world, it sent us a clear warning signal by simply blowing up a bunch of windows and lightly injuring over 1000 people.”
Scientists at the US space agency NASA estimated the amount of energy released into the atmosphere by the 10-tonne meteoroid was about 30 times greater than the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II.
The regional governor, Mikhail Yurevich, said the damage exceeded $US33 million ($32 million) but 30 per cent of the windows broken by the shock wave had already been replaced.
About 20,000 municipal employees, emergency workers and volunteers worked around the clock at the weekend to replace windows in a region where the overnight temperature fell to minus 20 degrees.
Divers spent Saturday scouring Lake Chebarkul, which was at first believed to be the impact site, but the emergency ministry now thinks that a circular eight-metre hole in the frozen lake, about 60 kilometres from the city of Chelyabinsk, was not caused by any extraterrestrial body.
”We believe it was caused by something else,” a ministry spokesman, Vyacheslav Ladonkin, said. ”A decision has been made to stop the search.”
Forty people were still being treated in hospital in Chelyabinsk on Sunday, mostly for cuts, broken bones and concussion, a doctor said.
Dmitry Rogozin, the vice-premier in charge of Russia’s defence industry, said he would give the Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, ”proposals on possibilities to register the danger of the Earth’s coming close to ‘aliens’ ” and to prevent such events.
”The governments of the most developed countries should unite in creating a system of warning and global protection,” Professor Lipunov said.