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Sky fall: Meteorites strike Earth every few months

What's the difference between a meteor and a meteorite?

Meteors are pieces of space rock, usually from larger comets or asteroids, which enter the Earth's atmosphere. Many are burned up by the heat of the atmosphere, but those that survive and strike the Earth are called meteorites. They often hit the ground at tremendous speed -- up to 18,642 mph according to the European Space Agency. That releases a huge amount of force.

How common are meteorite strikes?

Experts say smaller strikes happen five to 10 times a year. Large impacts such as the one today in Russia are rarer but still occur about every five years, according to Addi Bischoff, a mineralogist at the University of Muenster in Germany. Most of these strikes happen in uninhabited areas where they don't cause injuries to humans.

What caused the damage in Russia?

Alan Harris, a senior scientist at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, said most of the damage would have been caused by the explosion of the meteor as it broke up in the atmosphere. The explosion caused a shockwave that sent windows and loose objects flying through the air in a radius of several miles. By the time the remaining fragments hit the ground, they would have been too small to cause significant damage far from the site of impact, he said.

What would happen if a meteorite hit a large city?

Scientists hope never to find out, but they're still trying to prepare for such an event. Experts said the United States and Russia already are discussing how to spot potential threats sooner and avert them. But don't expect a Hollywood style mission to fly a nuclear bomb into space and blow up the asteroid.

"It's a global challenge, and we need to find a solution together," he said. "But one thing's for sure, the Bruce Willis "Armageddon" method won't work."

Source: Associated Press