Meteor that shook Pittsburgh ‘not unusual,’ NASA expert says

Science News

PITTSBURGH (NewsNation Now) — A meteor that caused an earthshaking boom over suburban Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day exploded in the atmosphere with an energy blast equivalent to an estimated 30 tons of TNT, officials said.

NASA’s Meteor Watch social media site said late Sunday a “reasonable assumption” of the speed of the meteor at about 45,000 mph would allow a “ballpark” estimate of its size as about a yard in diameter with a mass close to half a ton.

If not for the cloudy weather, NASA said, it would have been easily visible in the daytime sky — maybe about 100 times the brightness of the full moon.

A nearby infrasound station registered the blast wave from the meteor as it broke apart, enabling the estimates.

But NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke says this isn’t that rare.

“When you have the bigger space rocks, they can penetrate deep in the atmosphere and they’ll break apart violently and create an explosion that people hear as sound on the ground,” Cooke said on “Dan Abrams Live” on Monday. “So yes, they do happen.”

Cooke said rocks of this size are too small to be detected until they reach Earth. He says it happens about 100 times per year.

“For the Earth, this is not unusual,” Cooke said. “We encounter these things all the time. But if you’re in western Pennsylvania, it’s a pretty rare event.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Shannon Hefferan told the Tribune-Review that satellite data recorded a flash over Washington County shortly before 11:30 a.m. Saturday and officials believed it was due to a meteor “falling through the atmosphere.” Hefferan said a similar event occurred Sept. 17 in Hardy County, West Virginia.

Residents in South Hills and other areas reported hearing a loud noise and feeling their homes shaking and rattling. Allegheny County officials said they had confirmed that there was no seismic activity and no thunderstorms.

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