Gold-Winning Olympians to Get Bonus Meteorite Medals

3D simulation of the Chelyabinsk airburst
A 3-D simulation of the Chelyabinsk airburst created on Sandia National Laboratories’ Red Sky supercomputer. Credit: Andrea Carvey, Mark Boslough, and Brad Carvey

Winning an Olympic medal this weekend will make for a truly out-of-this-world experience.

That’s because ten lucky athletes who earn gold at the Sochi Olympics on February 15 will also receive a bonus medal decorated with a piece of the giant meteor that smacked into the Olympics host country, Russia, exactly one year ago.

UPDATE Feb.16: The International Olympic Committee nixed the plans for handing out the special meteorite medallions during the medal ceremonies on Saturday. It appears the IOC has very stringent rules regarding how these presentations are carried out and that no items, other than the official awards, may be presented. Reports indicate that the athletes may receive them in a separate ceremony at a later date.

This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of a 65-foot-wide (20-meter-wide) asteroid’s airburst explosion above the central Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The meteor injured some 1,500 people and caused damage to thousands of buildings.

Working on a souvenir Olympic medal with a fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite in the MAOK art shop in Zlatoust.
A worker puts the final touches on a souvenir Olympic medal with a fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite in the MAOK art shop in Zlatoust. Photograph by Aleksandr Kondratuk, RIA Novosti

Traveling at speeds of 42,500 miles (68,400 kilometers) per hour when it hit Earth’s atmosphere, it broke apart at about 17 miles (27 kilometers) in altitude, raining down thousands of fragments across the frozen ground of the southern Urals last February.

The largest chunk, weighing 1,300 pounds (600 kilograms), was recovered from Lake Chebarkul, near Chelyabinsk, where locals had noticed that a hole measuring roughly 26 feet (8 meters) wide was punched in the 27-inch-thick (70-centimeters-thick) ice of the lake immediately after the meteor had blazed through the sky.

According to an online report on the Russian news site RT.com, the unique meteorite-embedded medallions will be handed out to athletes racing in the men’s 1,500-meter speed skating, women’s 1,000-meter speed skating, and men’s 1,500-meter short-track skating events; the women’s cross-country skiing relay; the men’s K-125 ski jump; and the women’s super-giant slalom and the men’s skeleton events.

The athletes who win those events will carry home both memories and a piece of another superfast phenomenon that made its mark in Russia.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter,  Facebook, and his website.

 

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

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