Source: Brian Lada
The new year started off with a bang near Pittsburgh when the sound of a distant explosion echoed high in the sky, puzzling residents who were outside during the harmless blast.
Around 11:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, Jan. 1, NOAA’s GOES-16 weather satellite detected lightning over southeastern Pennsylvania, but there were no thunderstorms in the area to trigger a lightning flash. At the same time, people across the region reported a loud sound that was even picked up by some home security cameras.
Had it happened 12 hours earlier, the explosion may have been confused with fireworks being set off prematurely before the start of 2022, but scientists at NASA and NOAA believe that the sound did not originate from humans.
After looking over all of the data, NASA concluded that the explosion was caused by a meteor about three feet across and “with a mass close to half a ton” exploding as it entered Earth’s atmosphere.
According to NASA, the meteor was traveling around 45,000 mph and exploded with the energy of 30 tons of TNT.
“Had it not been cloudy, the fireball would have been easily visible in the daylight sky,” NASA said, adding that it would have been around 100 times brighter than a full moon.
It is unclear if any pieces of the space rock reached the ground, but if fragments did land on Earth, they would likely be somewhere southwest of Pittsburgh. No damage or injuries have been reported related to the sonic boom.
The loud explosion heard over SW PA earlier may have been a meteor explosion. This GOES-16 GLM Total Optical Energy product shows a flash that was not associated with lightning. No confirmation, but this is the most likely explanation at this time. pic.twitter.com/ArtHCEA1RT— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) January 1, 2022
Meteor explosions like the one from New Year’s Day are rare, but not completely unheard of. In mid-September, a similar event was detected over West Virginia when a meteor exploded over the region.
On Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, a woman in Golden, British Columbia, was startled awake by a meteorite that crashed through her house. The softball-sized rock came to rest in her bed just inches away from where she was sleeping.
People who spot an incredibly bright meteor, sometimes referred to as a fireball, can file a report with the American Meteor Society. Fireballs are not always accompanied by a sonic boom, but can illuminate the entire sky for a few seconds in what is described as a “once in a lifetime event.”