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Meteor likely ‘vaporized or exploded’ over Pittsburgh on Saturday

Story at a glance

  • A mysterious boom heard by Pittsburgh residents over the weekend was likely an exploding meteor, the National Weather Service said.
  • While this is “the most likely explanation at the time,” the actual occurrence of such an explosion remains unconfirmed, the Weather Service said.
  • Exploding meteors, or “airbursts,” occur when a large piece of space rock collides mid-flight with a thicker portion of Earth’s atmosphere.

A mysterious, deafening boom that reverberated through Pittsburgh Saturday was probably an exploding meteor, the National Weather Service said over the weekend.

“No confirmation, but this is the most likely explanation at this time,” the agency tweeted.

Neighborhood residents and officials were perplexed after a loud boom, accompanied by no seismic activity, inclement weather, or signs of detonation, sent what some described as a shock wave through a suburban area south of downtown Pittsburgh.

One community member tweeted footage from his at-home security camera, which captured the sound. Another video, posted to Facebook, showed fish in a backyard pond jumping as they felt the vibration.

“No discernible sound,” the person who uploaded the video wrote. “But something spooked them.”


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Because of the absence of storms (airplanes were also ruled out because they do not move fast enough to break pressure barriers and aren’t typically heard by people on the ground when they’re flying at high altitudes), meteorologists concluded that the sound was likely caused by a meteor moving toward Earth “pretty low in the atmosphere.”

“Our guess was potentially a meteor,” Jenna Lake, a meteorologist at the Pittsburgh office of the National Weather Service, told The New York Times over the weekend, though it will remain a guess “unless someone finds some rocks in their backyard,” she added.

According to Lake, a meteor is the “only thing besides aircraft incidents that would have been known occurrences and could have caused that type of sound.”

Another Pittsburgh Weather Service meteorologist, Chris Leonardi, told the Times he believed the meteor likely “exploded or vaporized.”

Exploding meteors, or “airbursts,” occur when a large piece of space rock collides with a thicker portion of Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a kind of detonation. 

The largest airburst in more than a century took place in Russia in 2013. The explosion, 30 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II, shattered windows and knocked over buildings.


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