The Sky is Falling

There was some excitement in our neighborhood recently! On the evening of April 21st at 8:48pm (EDT) a loud noise shook windows for several counties wide. Unfortunately, I personally missed it, mostly because I was baking cupcakes in the winery kitchen and had the exhaust hood running. Most people we talked with suspected an earthquake, but news outlets quickly attributed it to the sonic boom of a meteor. Due to a minimal number of eyewitnesses, no official report has been issued. Being up to my eyeballs in procedures for a big party, it was several days before I caught up with the frenzy caused by the mysterious shaking. Interestingly, it seems those who saw it did not hear anything and those who heard it did not see anything. And that would be the case for a meteor arriving at a steep angle where those at a distance see the trail in the sky but do not hear the sonic boom. Conversely, those near the entry point might only see a flash directly overhead but be subject to strong shock waves in its wake.

The story fell quickly out of the news and for lack of satisfaction I decided to contact NASA to see if they would comment. And to my amazement they did! The map above was generated by NASA official, Dr. Cooke, after my inquiry. The black arrows indicate eyewitness reports and the blue arrow estimates the location of the entry. Using the start/finish coordinates provided, I was able to generate a more detailed map (below) which indicates the burn path dropping from 49 to 29 miles high over towns and people we know.

With his permission, I have also posted here a copy of the email response I received from Dr. Cooke. I had asked him several questions actually, some regarding the fireball camera program. You will notice in his comment that the fireball was “pretty slow” for a meteor and more indicative of a “small fragment of an asteroid.” I’m not sure what the difference is except that everything moving in space gets its initial speed from somewhere and continues at that speed until acted on again.

If you are one of the lucky ones to have SEEN something of this event on April 21st, it is not too late to report it. You can find the file already open by the American Meteorological Society at this link and click the “Report a Fireball” button, referencing the event 2268-2023. Too bad the AMS doesn’t care much about what people heard or felt.

I know that thousands of such fireballs are generated around the world every year. Please forgive me for getting a little excited about this one that came close to falling in our front yard! A big shout out to NASA for all of the research they do in an effort to keep us safe.