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Russians begin selling pieces of meteorite; Experts question authenticity

Russians are now scrambling to retrieve pieces of the massive meteorite that exploded over the region on Friday, with media reporting of a modern-day gold rush in wintery Russia.

According to reports, Russian residents are scouring the area in an attempt to discover pieces of the 10,000-ton space rock that capture the world’s attention last Friday. A number of pieces have already been placed online in an effort to sell them to private citizens and researchers around the world.

While the explosion has left residents searching for chunks of the space rock, a number of experts warn that many of the rocks up for sale appear fake. The meteorite is made up of ordinary chondrite — the most common type of meteorite. The most valuable space materials are rare carbonaceous chondrite — which carry some of the building blocks of life — and those originating on Mars. Experts say many of the space rocks up for sale appear to be from Earth.

The search for pieces of the space rock comes just days after Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, confirmed that the space object that exploded in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia was a meteorite. Reports out of the region say hundreds are still seeking medical attention for minor injuries, and several buildings remain damaged.

The meteorite explosion released several kilotons of energy over the Ural Mountains, and fragments from the space rock plummeted to the Earth. Three meteorite debris impact sites have been identified by army units so far: two are to the west of  Chelyabinsk near Chebarkul Lake, and a third near the town of Ziatoust, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) further northwest.  One of the two fragments near the lake left a crater six meters in diameter. Fortunately, background radiation levels at this crater site are normal, according to service members from the tank brigade. Three aircraft have been deployed to continue surveying the area to find any other impact locations.

Before entering Earth’s atmosphere and breaking up, the meteorite weighed roughly 10 tons, according to estimates from the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Academy also estimated that the meteorite entered the atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph), and it exploded about 30-50 kilometers (1-32 miles) above the Ural Mountains.

According to the Chelyabinsk administration, the meteorite damaged almost 3,000 buildings, including 361 schools and 34 medical facilities. All totaled, 100,000 square meters of window glass shattered during the explosion, the administration’s website reported, and all classes in Chelyabinsk schools have been canceled because of this extensive window damage. Reports say the building with the most damage, however, is a zinc factory, its walls and roof partially destroyed by the blast.

Thousands of rescue workers are operating in the affected areas, the Emergency Ministry reported. In the city of Chelyabinsk alone, approximately 950 people are seeking medical attention, the region’s governor Mikhail Yurevich told RIA Novosti. 110 have been hospitalized and two remain in heavy condition. According to Emergency ministry, there are 159 children among those injured.

The explosion sounded like an earthquake and thunder struck, according to witnesses. Witnesses saw massive smoke trails, and there were reports of burning objects raining down from the sky. People in Chelyabinsk, Tyumen, and Sverdlovsk regions, Russia’s Republic of Bashkiria and northern Kazakhstan observed a bright flash in the sky, according to reports. Russian television broadcasted amateur video footage of the meteorite plummeting to Earth, with a thick white tail behind it, and then bursting in a flash of light.