On Wednesday, a large fireball shattered the Earth’s atmosphere above Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. At 8:03 a.m. CDT, a meteor sped through the sky, allegedly witnessed by 30 individuals and heard by many more. The meteor was believed to be no more than 0.3 meters (1 foot) in diameter and weighed around 40 kilos, according to NASA (90 pounds). As it destroyed 55 kilometers (34 miles) over Louisiana, it discharged the equivalent of 3 tons of TNT, causing shock waves that spread to the earth and generated huge sonic booms.
Given the amount of energy involved, it’s hardly unexpected that it shone 10 times brighter than the full moon in the sky, and its shock waves rocked the earth. “What struck me as surprising was how few eyewitness accounts we had given the sky were so clear,” said Bill Cooke, the director of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “It was heard more than seen.”
The bolide was seen from orbit as well. The Geostationary Lightning Mappers on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites 16 and 17 of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were able to see flashes related to the fragmentation of this object, which was first seen over the Mississippi River near the town of Alcorn. NOAA’s Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLM) onboard the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) 16 and 17 detected several bright flashes associated with the fragmentation of this bolide, or exceptionally bright meteor, which was first spotted 54 miles above the Mississippi River near the Mississippi town of Alcorn, from a distance of approximately 22,000 miles in space.
Bill Cooke, the lead of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, commented, “This is one of the finer occurrences I have seen in the GLM data.” The object, which was assumed to be a chunk of an asteroid with a diameter of approximately a foot and a mass of 90 pounds, traveled southwest at a speed of 55,000 miles per hour, breaking apart as it sank deeper into Earth’s atmosphere. It dissolved around 34 miles north of Minorca, Louisiana, over a marshy terrain.
The breakup of this fireball released energy equivalent to 3 tons of TNT (trinitrotoluene), causing shock waves to spread to the ground, resulting in the booms and tremors felt by those around. The fireball was nearly 10 times brighter than the Full Moon at its peak. “What struck me as remarkable was the scarcity of eyewitness reports we had given the clear sky,” Cooke remarked. “It was heard more than seen.”