Image credit: American Meteor Society
Early yesterday morning, a large bright green fireball streaked through the sky over northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, created a sonic boom, and sprinkled space rocks into Lake Michigan.
As of the time of this writing, the American Meteor Society (AMS) has received 467 reports of the fireball sighting. It was seen primarily from Illinois and Wisconsin, but witnesses from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, New York, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Ontario (Canada) also reported the event.
Meteors that light up the sky more than average are called fireballs, Popular Mechanics explains, and this one was particularly brilliant. While the exact magnitude of this meteor is not yet known, the AMS’s Mike Hankey said it “rivaled the brightness of the sun, and we can tell that by the shadows it cast in some of the videos.”
Hankey said the meteor created a sonic boom that shook houses in the region. Sonic booms occur when an object moves faster than sound waves in Earth’s atmosphere. Meteorites create a sonic boom only when they remain intact long enough to travel to relatively low altitudes, where Earth’s atmosphere is sufficiently dense, Hankey explained to Live Science. Most fireball meteors do not create a sonic boom – they burn up or break up into small pieces before they reach those low altitudes.
Estimated to be about the size of a car, the huge space rock flew over Lake Michigan, and pieces of it “most definitely” landed in the lake:
“The cloud of debris was picked up on NOAA’s NEXRAD Doppler Weather Radar, so this is a definitive source that rocks made it all the way down,” says Hankey. “Reports of sonic booms also suggest it survived passage through the upper atmosphere.”
A meteor large enough to leave meteorites on the ground typically flies over the U.S. about three or four times per year, Hankey said.
But the extraordinary brightness of this meteor makes it a much rarer occurrence, and it may be classified as a “bolide” – a special type of fireball which explodes in a bright terminal flash at its end, often with visible fragmentation.
Weighing at least 600 pounds and possibly much more, this meteor was “on the larger end of anything we’ve seen,” says Hankey.
A police officer in Illinois captured footage of the incredible fireball on his dash camera:
Other witnesses caught the event on camera and shared their videos:
This video was recorded from the roof of the Atmospheric, Oceanic & Space Sciences Building on the University of Wisconsin campus:
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