While many people may have heard fireworks on January 1, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania heard another alarming boom: an asteroid exploding over in the atmosphere. According to NASA, the object’s blast was the equivalent of 30 tons of TNT.
The loud boom was heard within minutes of 11:30 AM Saturday, leading many to call in and make reports, while others reported to the New York Times that they scrambled to make sure what they heard was real. If the skies had not been cloudy that morning, NASA says that the residents would have been able to see a massive fireball in the sky, as the asteroid broke into pieces.
NASA estimates that the blast was actually (or would have been) around 100 times the brightness of the moon.
“If we make a reasonable assumption as to the meteor’s speed (45,000 miles per hour), we can ballpark the object’s size at about a yard in diameter, with a mass close to half a ton,” NASA reports.
Due to the clouds, the event looked like a ‘purple flash,’ according to the NOAA.
To decipher what the event was, scientists had to rule out various other possibilities including earthquakes, fireworks, car crashes, etc, and then looked over satellite data to observe its trajectory. Because the body was moving from North to South, William J Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office explains, “All the data points were in a straight line, and lightning does not behave that way. Only meteors behave that way.”
Astronomer Diane Turnshek says she plans on searching for the remnants of the meteor. CBA News spoke with her and during their talk, she insinuated that it would have crashed into Earth had it not blown up in the atmosphere. Now, she says, there are fair-sized chunks to search for.
“I’ve bought and given away hundreds of meteorites to my students over the years, and I just think it’s wonderful to have someone touch a piece of rock that was out in space,” she said. “That’s the value of it to me, is here’s a celestial wonder right in your hand.”