Russians believe meteor strike could have been UFO or God's message

A recent newspaper poll found that nearly half of its readers believe that the meteor strike in Russia could be anything from a divine message to UFOs to a US weapons test.

A survey published by the fairly staid Moscow daily Noviye Izvestia found that barely half its readers believe the official report that the blast was caused by a meteor.

According to the newspaper, the other half prefer to believe in an assortment of bizarre explanations, including that the blast was a secret US weapon test, an off-course ballistic missile, a message from God, a crashing alien spaceship, or even an extraterrestrial trojan horse carrying a deadly space virus to wipe out the Earth, C S Monitor reported.

"Our people remember the Soviet past, when news of disasters was concealed or lied about," Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center, an independent Moscow polling agency said.

"We have no scientific polls on what people think about the Chelyabinsk event last week, but it's safe to assume the majority of Russians accept that it was a meteorite. However, our past surveys show that up to 25 percent of Russians do believe in UFOs. A lot of our people just prefer not to accept the safe explanations they were taught at school. Even when all necessary information is available, they don't want to believe it," he said.

Scientists insist that they already know most key facts about 10,000-ton iron and stone meteorite - now named Chebarkul, after a city nearest to where the largest fragments landed - that exploded over the Urals city of Chelyabinsk a week ago in a dazzling fireball that released 500 kilotons, the power of 30 Hiroshima A-bombs, about 15 miles above the city.

It was the largest meteorite to make contact with Earth since the vastly more destructive 1908 Tunguskaya event, which involved an estimated 50 megaton blast that leveled an area of almost 800 square miles, and flattened 80-million trees, in a remote part of central Siberia.

For those Russians not prepared to believe in UFOs, a wide variety of other offbeat explanations are available for the Chelyabinsk event.

Russian ultranationalist parliamentarian Vladimir Zhirinovsky, with a nod to the currently strained relations between Russia and the US, has suggested that anti-Russian hardliners in the US staged a secret weapons test over Russia.

About a third of Noviye Izvestia's readers said they thought the meteor was actually a Russian missile test gone awry, or perhaps a falling satellite, which was covered up with the official story of a meteorite.

Inevitably perhaps, at least one leading Russian cleric has insisted that the meteor was a message from God, to remind us all of the fragility of life on this world.

And from the trade union newspaper, Trud, the cheery suggestion that the meteorite could be carrying deadly viruses from outer space, possibly the work of malevolent extraterrestrial forces.