Syracuse, NY – A million or more years ago, a 1-ton rock survived the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, bound for Syracuse.
Both the rock and the earth were drawn into different orbits by the Sun, dodging each other for millennia.
After Wednesday afternoon, until the meteor crashed into the atmosphere above Earth’s New York Central, slipping windows, tripping earthquake detectors and scattering the ancient debris as it burned to more than half the temperature as the sun.
“Perhaps it’s crossing the Earth’s path countless times, until its time was until 2020,” said Robert Lunsford, the fireball report coordinator for the American Meteor Society. “The potential for a collision is limitless, but if you do it several million times, it happens in the end.”
Thousands of meteors collide with the Earth every year, but most go unnoticed because they are so small to see and because most of the planet is an ocean or uninhabited land. The week was the rarest of rare events: a meteor large enough to be seen during daylight, hitting the sky above a densely populated area where millions of people can experience it.
Zoe Lerner Ponterio, manager of Cornell University’s Spacecraft Planetary Image Facility, said, “Anyone who got to see it should remember it forever, because it’s not something most people will ever see.” “If you drew a 1-kilometer square in your yard, you would only get a meteor to hit that spot every 50,000 years.”
Thanks to one of the best climates in the country, unfortunately, most Central New Yorkers did not get to witness the meteor. But it was captured on video in western New York and Toronto, and people from Virginia to Ontario heard deafening sounds like deafening or falling trees. As one of the 181 observers who filed the report with the meteorite society, he said: “Away from the scared bees.”
Based on those reports, the society calculated that the meteor struck the atmosphere above Lake Ontario and disintegrated south of Rochester. NASA’s projected trajectories show a different path, when the meteor strikes 12–12 atop Syracuse and dive southwest toward Finger Lakes for 3 seconds before exiting. It was just 22 miles above the ground at that point, which is a long, long way to enter the meteor’s atmosphere.
NASA has three meteorite-tracking cameras in Ohio and western Pennsylvania that may have given the exact path, but they were closed at the time.
“Meteor cameras are not turned on by night because they are very sensitive to the sun,” explained Bill Cook, who monitors meteors for NASA.
The meteor was so bright that it was captured by a NASA satellite that monitors electricity. The pieces of debris scattered after the meteor burst can be seen on the National Weather Service radar. And the sonic boom in Ontario was detected by a seismograph, which records the device earthquake.
When the meteor finally became quite hot, Cook said, it releases as much as 66 tons of dynamite.
“When it broke, it created a jerk wave, which produced the sound people would hear,” he said.
NASA estimates that the meteor was under 3 feet and weighed around 1,800 pounds. It is as heavy as a meteor: Shooting stars seen in annual meteor showers are no larger than small pebbles or golf balls.
Wednesday’s meteorite dropped into the atmosphere at a speed of 56,000 mph.
“It’s slow for a meteor, really,” Cook said. “Some, like the Leonids, run at speeds of 150,000 mph.”
The relatively sluggish motion indicates that the meteor may have loosened from the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter, about 92 million miles from Earth. He is as far away from the Earth as the Sun.
As the meteor advanced beyond the Earth’s rising atmosphere, it reached an estimated temperature of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison, the surface of the Sun is slightly less than 10,000 degrees.
Cook said that the rock – technically called a meteorite, before it collided with the Earth’s atmosphere and became a meteorite – was the lead color of the pencil. As it burst into a fireball, it emitted 100 times faster light than a full moon.
Lansford said the meteor was large enough that some fragments could remain intact and rain on Earth.
“It is possible that some small pieces may have landed somewhere between Rochester and Syracuse,” he said.
Fragments that fall to Earth, perhaps no larger than charcoal briquettes, are called meteorites. They are black and appear burnt, as they really are.
“They would look similar to lava,” Lunford said. “This is very different to the normal rocks you’ll find.”
Those foreign meteorites can be valuable, and a cottage industry of meteorites hunts for them. Lunsford stated that the fragments would probably be scattered over an area of about 25 miles in diameter at the end of the meteorite’s trajectory. NASA’s rough estimate shows the meteor’s path at the northern tip of Cayuga Lake, while the meteorite society places the endpoint approximately 60 miles west.
This potential is several thousand square miles of rubble area. Lerner Ponterio, whose museum has a collection of meteorites at Cornell, said meteorite predators should not raise their hopes.
“Finding a piece on the ground is a very rare occurrence, and almost always when someone thinks they found it turns out to be something else,” she said.
Kook said that meteors strike the Earth every day, and large fireballs such as occur once a month in the US. But this week, that was somewhere Our somewhere.
“They’re not uncommon,” Cook said. “But if you see it, it’s a rare occurrence.”
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