This one, however was a beauty, and when it finally blew apart in mid-air the energy released would have equated to a five kiloton nuclear explosion – about 35% of the power of the Hiroshima bomb – so the effect must have been spectacular, at the very least.
Experts say that, when entering the atmosphere Sunday Last AM, the meteor was probably about as big as a minivan, creating a massive sonic boom on the way down, and spotted by people from as far apart as Sacramento to Las Vegas and even in parts of northern Nevada.
Like the massively larger Tunguska event, this possibly seven ton rock exploded into untold thousands of pieces – such space phenomena happening at best once yearly globally, mostly over oceans. That is why the location of this event was really something special, because most meteors seen are but tiny stone or grain of sand size, with short-lived trails.
This one, however was a beauty, and when it finally blew apart in mid-air the energy released would have equated to a five kiloton nuclear explosion – about 35% of the power of the Hiroshima bomb – so the effect must have been spectacular, at the very least. You might wonder why a meteor that size did not make it to the ground.
You need to consider the speed with which the space rock entered the atmosphere, which would have been well over 40,000 mph, creating friction between itself and the earth atmosphere of such intensity that the rock literally starts to vaporize. Unless it has real mass – way bigger than this one – the chances of it making landfall in one piece are fairly remote.
One meteorite piece has already been found north-east of Sacramento, and many more pieces are sure to turn up as the days pass. What excites meteorite hunters is that this was a very rare type of meteorite called carbonaceous chondrite, one of the oldest space objects known to man and one of the rarest, containing amino acids and organic compounds valued for research by scientists.
Such meteorites are among the most primitive of space rocks, dating to the origin of the solar system 4 to 5 billion years ago, and unusual because it contains two of the most important chemicals looked for by scientists, namely a form of water and carbon. In fact, larger versions of just this type of space rock, in the asteroid belt, would make a good mining candidate for those planning to mine asteroids.
Not on the NASA list of near Earth objects – not big enough – this rock really did take astronomers by surprise, when it exploded in a huge fireball above California’s Central Valley, but spectators will have loved the show. No doubt there are now untold numbers of dealers and collectors scouring the area for fragments, knowing that souvenir seekers love to get their hands on genuine space rocks, especially the rarer ones.