The global news impact of the Russian meteorite has far outstripped the actual physical impact of the object today, reminding us just how quickly information, and potential disinformation, can spread via the internet.
Within minutes of the meteor’s impact alternative theories began to circulate that the object seen in the video had been shot down by Russian air defence missiles to prevent further destruction.
The theory seems to have stemmed from a report from the local Znak newspaper, which quoted an anonymous “military source” who claimed that the object was intercepted by an air defense unit at the Urzhumka settlement near Chelyabinsk.
According to the source, a missile salvo blew the meteorite apart at an altitude of 20 kilometers, scattering burning debris over the region.
Russia Today picked up the report and sent it viral on the internet, adding that “Regnum news agency quoted a military source who claimed that the vapor condensation trail of the meteorite speaks to the fact that the meteorite was intercepted by air defenses.”
In the hours that have passed, the story has been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times.
The Russian regional Emergency Ministry has denied that any military air defenses were involved in the incident.
Witnesses in a town 50 kilometers from Chelyabinsk, where the meteor is thought to have hit, said they saw a streaking object suddenly burst into flames, break apart and fall to the ground. They then described a black cloud had hanging above the town. Witnesses in Chelyabinsk itself said that the air smelled like gunpowder after the object hit.
Reactions to the shoot down theory have been mixed, with detractors suggesting no upward missile vapour trail or intercepting object can be seen in the videos, and that it would be impossible to shoot down an object travelling with such speed at the trajectory it approached.
More wide eyed theorists have suggested that the object may not have been a meteor at all and could have been a satellite that was shot down, or some form of kinetic bombardment weapon aimed at Russia.
The latter theory seems to have stemmed from comments made by Russian nationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who claimed that the flashes and sonic booms witnessed were the results of a secret US weapons test.
Zhirinovsky, known for making such startling claims about advanced weaponry, suggested that he had advance knowledge of a test. He also claimed that US Secretary of State John Kerry had attempted to warn Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a coming “provocation” earlier this week, but couldn’t reach him.
It seems more likely, however, that the “provocation” Kerry had spent time trying to speak to Lavrov about by phone was in refernce to the recent nuclear test in North Korea.