With all of the seriousness going on in the world these days, it is nice when some levity falls from the sky, so to speak.
Vermonters got a show to go along with dinner late Sunday afternoon, when a fireball streaked across the dusky sky. And those folks who didn’t see the seconds-long atmospheric extravaganza probably heard it. Traveling at 47,000 mph, according to NASA, it caused some “amplitude.” In other words, there was a pretty massive boom, followed by what many people thought was an earthquake, because there was so much shaking going on.
According to NASA’s report on the incident, “As the object (which was likely a fragment of an asteroid) penetrated deeper into the atmosphere, pressure built up on its front while a partial vacuum formed behind it. About 30 miles up, the pressure difference between front and back exceeded its structural strength. The space rock fragmented violently, producing a pressure wave that rattled buildings and generated the sound heard by those near the trajectory. Such a pressure wave can also couple into the ground, causing minor “tremors” that can be picked up by seismic instruments in the area; the wave itself can be detected by infrasound (low frequency sound that can travel great distances) stations.”
NASA reported the infrasound measurements from three nearby stations measured amplitudes and durations that put the “energy of the fireball fragmentation at 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of TNT. We can combine this energy with the speed to get a mass and size of the object — 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) and 6 inches (15 centimeters) in diameter. … A nice little firework, courtesy of Mother Nature.”
According to the online blog Ecowatch, the event was witnessed across New England actually. A camera at Burlington International Airport that is hosted by WCAX captured the fireball as it crossed the firmament. The exclusive literally fell out of the sky.
“I actually thought my apartment was being knocked off its foundation,” one resident of Essex Junction, Vermont wrote in the comments of a NASA Meteor Watch Facebook post about the incident.
Ecowatch writer Olivia Rosane wrote eyewitness reports from Canada and the Northeastern United States said that the meteor flashed across the sky at around 5:38 p.m. NASA confirmed that time.
According to Rosane, from data and hundreds of eyewitness reports, NASA has calculated that the meteor first appeared over Vermont at a height of 52 miles above Mount Mansfield State Forest. It then sped northeast at a rate of 47,000 mph for some 33 miles across the upper atmosphere before burning up over Beach Hill in Orleans County, NASA said. When the show was over, the fireball was just over 30 miles from the ground.
NASA received hundreds of comments on the incident on its Facebook page and a web page devoted to observations, it stated.
Rosane wrote, “So far, its Facebook post has more than 500 comments. In addition to Vermont, people also reported seeing it in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and the Canadian province of Québec.”
“It was dusk, so the sky was a deep blue, and I saw a bright red, orange and yellow streak to the north of me,” one Massachusetts eyewitness commented on the NASA post. “I thought it must have been something much bigger than a standard ‘shooting star’ to be so visible when not totally dark yet.”
NASA characterized the meteor as a “fireball,” a meteor with a magnitude of brightness greater than negative four, or the brightness of Venus in the morning or evening sky, a report from Newsweek explained. A meteor, more commonly referred to as “a shooting star,” is the name for the light we see when an asteroid or meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere. If a meteoroid does not burn up before it lands, it is called a meteorite, according to NASA.
However, much of the object burns up as it travels rapidly through the atmosphere. Usually less than 5% of an original meteoroid ever lands on Earth as a meteorite. According to NASA’s facts on meteors, about once a year an automobile-sized meteor will hit the atmosphere causing an impressive fireball, burning up before hitting the Earth’s surface.
Around 48.5 tons of material from meteoroids enters the atmosphere every day, scientists estimate.
For the second time in as many weeks, science gave us a respite from the drudgery of COVID, Megan’s and Harry’s trials and tribulations, and the kerfuffle that erupted over Dr. Seuss’ estate refusing to publish some of his books because the imagery was found to be racist.
This fireball was an exciting moment on an otherwise mundane Sunday. It lasted just a few seconds, yet we have come to learn so much from a bright spot.