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Russian divers find huge suspected meteorite chunk in Chelyabinsk

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 8:20 AM EDT, Thu October 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A suspected meteorite fragment weighing more than 1,200 pounds is hauled from a lake
  • Divers raised the chunk of rock from the lake bottom in a televised operation
  • Chelyabinsk was showered with meteorites after a meteor blast on February 15
  • Amateur video showed a bright white streak moving across the sky, followed by a huge bang

(CNN) -- Eight months after a meteor blast rained meteorites down on Russia's Chelyabinsk region, what is thought to be the biggest chunk of the space rock yet has been hauled from the depths of a lake, Russian state media said.

The suspected meteorite fragment weighed at least 570 kilograms (1,257 pounds), the official Itar-Tass news agency reported.

It was recovered from the bottom of Chebarkul Lake in the Chelyabinsk region, in Russia's Urals, in an operation covered live Wednesday on Russian TV.

The chunk of dark rock, measuring about five feet in diameter, was dragged ashore by divers who hauled it from the murky water.

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It tipped and then broke the scales used to weigh it, before splitting into three smaller pieces, state news agency RIA Novosti said.

Andrei Kocherov, of Chelyabinsk University, said, "If it weighs more than 500 kilograms then the object is unique in itself and is likely to be one of the biggest meteorites ever found."

Scientists still have to examine the rock to confirm its origins in space.

Meteor tainted by ancient crashes

"The initial visual survey which we are talking about now doesn't give us 100% certainty, we still need to conduct more research, a structural analysis and other tests," said Kocherov.

Once scientists have had a chance to study its composition the giant chunk recovered Wednesday will be placed on display in a local museum, RIA Novosti said.

The lake was frozen over when, on February 15, the nearly 60-foot-wide space rock plunged into Earth's atmosphere and exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk with the force of about 30 early nuclear bombs.

Some meteorites were believed then to have melted their way through the ice, but scientists had to wait for warmer weather before they could more fully plumb the lake's depths.

Other, smaller fragments have also been recovered from the lake and other parts of the region.

Deafening bang

Amateur video footage from February 15 showed a bright white streak moving rapidly across the sky before exploding with an even brighter flash and a deafening bang.

The meteor was a once-in-a-century event, NASA officials said, describing it as a "tiny asteroid."

With an estimated weight of 10,000 metric tons, it was the largest to hit Earth since the 1908 Tunguska incident in Siberia, where a meteorite strike flattened a forest.

NASA estimates 4,700 'potentially hazardous' asteroids

The blast left more than 1,500 injured, mostly by glass from shattered windows, and raised concerns about humanity's vulnerability to stray asteroids.

Two months later, NASA announced a goal of sending a spacecraft out to seize and asteroid and tow it into orbit around the moon, where it could be studied by astronauts -- a project billed in part as a planetary defense mission.

But it ran into opposition in Congress, where a House committee voted to block any funding for the mission in July.

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