Residents of several southern states both saw and heard a visitor from outer space this week. NASA is reporting over 30 people caught a glimpse of a fireball hurtling towards Earth. Many more residents of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi didn’t see the object, but heard it just fine. There were myriad reports of loud booms as the object rocketed through our atmosphere, and eventually fell to earth.
NASA says the fireball was likely a chunk of an asteroid that measured a foot across and weighed around 90lbs. It was plummeting towards earth at a speed of 55,000 miles per hour as it began to break apart in the lower atmosphere. The fragmentation caused an energy equivalent of three tons of TNT exploding, which caused shockwaves felt on the ground below. It was also the source of numerous loud booms reported by residents. The object was first spotted 54 miles above Mississippi, and disintegrated in an area 34 miles north of Minorca in Louisiana.
The streaking “fireball” was first picked up by NOAA satellites positioned 22.00 miles away. The agency’s Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLM) onboard Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) 16 and 17 identified numerous bright flashes in the sky. The flashes were caused by the disintegration of the bolide, which is an exceptionally bright meteor. NASA says at its peak, it was more than ten times brighter than a full moon.
Events like this are exceedingly rare. Bill Cooke, who runs NASA’s Meteoroid Environments office, said Mississippi residents won’t see another meteor like this for “decades.” Cooke offered his comments to a local news station, which also played footage of the meteor falling to earth. Unfortunately, the footage was caught on dash cam, so it’s low-resolution and grainy. Cooke also said in a statement he was surprised more people didn’t see the meteor. “What struck me as unusual was how few eyewitness reports we had given the skies were so clear,” said Cooke. “More people heard it than saw it.” Cooke also described the meteor as “one of the nicer events I’ve seen in the GLM data.” It’s unclear what he means by “nice” in this context, other than referencing the fact that nobody on the ground was hurt. It probably looked pretty cool too.
Feature image by Alex Alishevskikh.
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