While news reports have been scant, there was a major cosmic event over California and Nevada this past Sunday. A meteor weighing approximately 70 tons rocketed across the sky at a stunning 33,500 mph and exploded in the atmosphere. The meteor sighting was reported by residents of both states and those in California also reported the explosion, which rattled house windows across a large area of the state and also set off building and car alarms.
The meteor, which was roughly the size of a minivan, although much heavier due to the density, and traveling at such a high velocity, was estimated by the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office to have exploded with the force of roughly3.8 kilotons of TNT.
While NASA is busy mapping earth-threatening asteroids, one of this size is difficult to spot in advance. Thankfully most asteroids in this range are likely to burn up upon entry into earth’s atmosphere, as this one did. Some experts think that it could have possibly scattered tiny pieces of debris across the Sierra Nevada mountains, but no fragments were likely large enough to do any damage. You can check out the video below.
Eyewitness reports have been pouring in about sightings of a meteor in the skies above New Zealand. The fireball passed over large population areas like Wellington and Christchurch giving the opportunity for anyone with a camera handy to grab shots. The pictures have been piling up at the WeatherWatch site for the kiwi nation. One eyewitness reported seeing an “object the size of a helicopter on fire.” Others across the island nation have submitted reports about seeing the object, which seems to have been visible across a large portion of the country.
The meteor was likely a lone incident as the earth is not currently passing through any showers right now, although the Lyrids is coming up in about three weeks. The meteor probably burned up in earth’s atmosphere as there are no reports of an impact. If more information comes in I will add an update to this post. I have also sent a message to the “Bad Astronomer” Phil Plait to see if he has additional insight.
One of my favorite web sites, Universe Today, has linked up a video that really captured my imagination. The video, captured by Bryan Stewart and posted to Vimeo, shows the International Space Station (ISS) passing overhead during the recent Perseid Meteor Shower.
The video is 1:06 in length and was filmed in Texas at 6:25am on August 10, 2011. In addition to some great videography, it also features a soundtrack that is Carl Sagan set to music. What more could you ask for?!
If you have never seen the ISS pass over, it’s a steady, non-blinking white light that moves fairly quickly across the sky. Not meteor-fast, but you will only have 1-2 minutes of viewing time to follow it from one horizon to the other.
If you want to find out if/when it will be viewable in your area, I recommend the Heaven’s Above website. You will to need to enter the coordinates of your location, but once you have it set up you can bookmark it with your coordinates and you will not need to ever enter them again. In addition to the ISS, it also gives information on such passes as Iridium Satellites.