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3 Oct, 2013 11:33

Divers raising half-ton sunken fragment of Russian meteorite

Divers raising half-ton sunken fragment of Russian meteorite

Despite a string of ‘unbelievable’ hurdles, a diving operation to lift the biggest-yet discovered fragment of the famous Russian meteorite stuck in a mud lakebed has entered the final phase.

RT is scheduled to show live the recovery of the 50cm by 90cm space rock weighing an estimated 600kg, which plunged into the depths of Lake Chebarkul in February.

It is one of a few salvageable chunks of a massive meteorite, which exploded over Russia’s Chelyabinsk Region, producing a blast wave that injured some 1,600 people on the ground before circling Earth three times.

The recovery operation started on September 10 and was expected to last for about a week, but the process was stalled due to several obstacles.

The amount of sediments that need to be removed to uncover the meteorite fragment has proven to be bigger than the initial optimistic estimates. It took the team 10 days of pumping mud away from the site to come close enough to touch the rock with a probe.

“It’s like the little green men don’t want us Earthlings to get the celestial body,” Maksim Shipulin, one of the divers, commented to Rossiyskaya Gazeta. “We thought we’d be able to get the big meteorite from the depth of 14 meters, but it’s being sucked in deeper, and we are now talking about 16 to 20 meters.”

Lifting the meteorite from Lake Chebarkul in Chelyabinsk. (RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Kondratuk)

The divers have to work in zero visibility conditions due to the muddied waters. It’s quite risky because even an experienced diver can lose orientation underwater without visual cues. There are other hazards as well.

“One of the guys was almost trapped under a chunk of dense mud. It’s good for him that he didn’t panic,” Shipulin said.

They team had to take special precautions not to allow the sediments to contaminate that part of the lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for a nearby lakeside town. The town’s mayor paid a visit to the site with an inspection last week, with the team seizing the chance take him underwater and show how they work. His comment after the dip reportedly was “You guys should be paid more.”

The operation experienced a number of drawbacks due to a string of equipment failures, which the more mystically-minded part of the expedition call ‘unbelievable’. Apart from the diving part the team has to deal with unfavorable weather and regular interruptions by curious gawkers, who crowd the site of the operation in their boats.

Photo from vk.com/expedition_yaz

While the biggest prize so far eluded the divers, they have found eight smaller fragments of the meteorite, the biggest one weighing just under 5kg, which is currently the largest fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite found. Their other catch includes plenty of garbage and a large number of magnets – the remainder of the winter enthusiastic hunt for smaller meteorite fragments by various entrepreneurs.

The raising of the meteorite is co-funded by local authorities and Aleut, the company conducting the operation. It says it has invested some $95,000 of its money in the project, hoping that the generated publicity would be enough compensation. Being part of a historic event is also a reward in itself, divers say.