[meteorite-list] Meteor Dazzles The Northeast

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:43:34 2004
Message-ID: <200107251614.JAA08831_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Meteor dazzles the Northeast

Science: Thousands witness fiery object, which is believed to have been
incinerated before it hit the ground.

July 25, 2001

PHILADELPHIA - The fiery meteor that streaked across the northeastern United
States on Monday, stunning eyewitnesses from Canada to Virginia, was likely
one of the small, stony space objects that routinely enter Earth's
atmosphere every few weeks, scientists said Tuesday.

What made this one rare, however, was that the blazing object appeared over
a heavily populated region of North America in clear view of thousands of
people who flooded emergency hotlines in a half-dozen U.S. states with
reports of meteors, crashing planes and UFOs.

Scientists say it's the first time that has happened in northeastern North
America since 1994, when a car-size meteor exploded over the French Canadian
town of St.-Robert, showering the ground with meteorites.

Something similar occurred in 1992 in the United States, when a fireball was
spotted overhead in an October evening sky moments before a meteorite
crashed into a car in Peekskill, N.Y. The object later was sold to a
collector for $69,000.

"We do get interplanetary material raining down on the Earth to the tune of
400 tons a day, mostly dust but also rocky particles," said Don Yeomans, a
scientist who oversees the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's
Near-Earth Object Program.

"This sort of thing's not unusual," he added. "What is unusual is that it
happened over a densely inhabited area. Usually it's over an ocean, or a
sparely populated area, and nobody sees it."

Monday's meteor was sighted over the U.S. mid-Atlantic at about 6:19 p.m.
over a distance of up to 500 miles. Some who caught the momentary spectacle
imagined its size to be that of an airplane or a house.

"At first, I thought it was something dropping from a plane or something,"
said Peter Biddle, who saw it while driving on a highway in suburban

Scientists believe the object was no larger than a small suitcase and
probably was incinerated by contact with the Earth's atmosphere long before
it could strike ground.

Television stations Tuesday appealed to viewers for any home videos of the
meteor. Scientists said camcorder footage of the 1992 fireball in New York
enabled analysts to track the object back to the asteroid belt between Mars
and Jupiter.

Meteors have captured the popular imagination in recent years, thanks to
media depictions of large-scale destruction of the kind witnessed June 30,
1908, in remote Siberia, where a 165-foot-wide meteor exploded six miles
above land with the force of a 10-megaton hydrogen bomb, flattening 400
square miles of forest.

A much larger meteor, 6 miles wide, is believed to have caused the
extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago after striking Mexico's
Yucatan Peninsula.

Experts say it could be weeks before they can gather hard data on Monday's
meteor from U.S. missile-detection satellites and other government sensors,
which record 3-foot-wide objects striking the atmosphere at a rate of about
two a month.

Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, described the phenomenon
as a "meteor shower," saying: "At least one (object) was particularly
bright." But he maintained the U.S. military had not tracked its movement.

Based on eyewitness accounts, scientists assume it was a chunk of asteroid
that hit Earth's atmosphere at supersonic speed, flared into a fireball at
an altitude of about 60 miles and then exploded into dust at 10 to 20 miles
above Pennsylvania.
Received on Wed 25 Jul 2001 12:14:33 PM PDT

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