The Russians have moved quickly, and have already found multiple impact sites left by the meteorite that crashed in the Urals.

Army units found three meteorite debris impact sites, two of which are in an area near Chebarkul Lake, west of Chelyabinsk. The third site was found some 80 kilometers further to the northwest, near the town of Zlatoust. One of the fragments that struck near Chebarkul left a crater six meters in diameter.

Servicemembers from the tank brigade that found the crater have confirmed that background radiation levels at the site are normal.

And they have found at least one fragment.

Experts working at the site of the impact told Lifenews tabloid that the fragment is most likely solid, and consists of rock and iron.

A local fisherman told police he found a large hole in the lake’s ice, which could be a result of a meteorite impact. The site was immediately sealed off by police, a search team is now waiting for divers to arrive and explore the bottom of the lake.

Here’s the hole in the lake ice, via Russia Today.

Solar system astronomy usually takes a back seat to sexier research on deep space, black holes and cosmology. That’s about to change, for a little while.

Let the meteorite gold rush begin. The next few years will be an amazing period in asteroid and solar system research. We have today’s near miss, from which we may be able to learn quite a bit through close-up imagery from multiple telescopes and satellites. And we have the crash in Russia, which was witnessed by thousands of people and captured on numerous videos and photos.

The eye witness reports and imagery will be key to figuring out the object’s trajectory and the fragments will tell us what it was. That will tell us some new things about the beginnings of the solar system.

This is the first time in human history we will be able to compile so much data about an object that struck us from space.

The object that exploded over Tunguska, Russia on June 30, 1908 left no fragments. Scientists were not even able to get to the site until 1921, thirteen years after it struck. Still what they found was incredible. By then the Soviets had taken over, and were clamping down on outsider access to any part of the USSR. The first scientific expedition to Tunguska found that trees were leveled and burned over hundreds of square kilometers.

Had that object entered the atmosphere just a bit later than it did, it could have struck the more populate regions of Russia or Europe. Had it struck, say, Paris, it would have been a city killer. Yet it left no fragments, and debate has raged for a century as to what, exactly, it was. The evidence can be interpreted to argue that it was a comet, or that it was a light or fragmented asteroid. The lack of access to the crash site, thanks in part to the communists, plus the lack of any fragment have hobbled investigations into Tunguska. Neither will be a problem this time around. The Soviets are gone (well, mostly, given Putin’s KGB past) and today’s Russia is accessible by scientists worldwide. There will be a mad scientist dash from everywhere to descend on the Chelyabinsk region and examine every angle of this crash.

Update: These are days of miracle and wonder…here are all the YouTubes of the Russian meteorite gathered in one page, by a man who lives near the impact site.