Sustainability Energy

NASA says New Year’s Day meteor explosion was equivalent to 30 tons of TNT

Story at a glance

  • The meteor that exploded over suburban Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day had an energy blast equivalent to that of 30 tons of TNT, NASA estimated in a post on Facebook.
  • NASA also estimated that the meteor was about a yard in diameter, with a mass close to half a ton, or 1,000 pounds.
  • A similar event had occurred in mid-September in Hardy County, West Virginia, a local Weather Service meteorologist said.

The meteor that exploded over Pittsburgh Saturday had an energy blast equivalent to that of 30 tons of TNT, NASA has estimated.

Based on a “reasonable assumption” that the meteor was traveling at about 45,000 miles per hour when it broke apart, “we can ballpark the object’s size at about a yard in diameter, with a mass close to half a ton,” NASA’s Meteor Watch wrote Sunday evening on Facebook.

One day prior, a mysterious boom reverberated through suburban Pittsburgh, sending what some described as a shock wave through the western Pennsylvania neighborhood.

Community members and local officials were immediately on the hunt for answers, as the blast that rattled homes was not accompanied by seismic activity, inclement weather or signs of detonation.


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One resident 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 blast’s vibration.

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

The National Weather Service on Saturday evening said the sound “may have been a meteor explosion.”

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

NASA on Sunday confirmed the sonic boom was caused by a “bolide,” or a large meteor that explodes in the atmosphere.

“The area was cloudy at the time, but the Geostationary Lightning Mapper on the GOES-16 satellite picked up a strong meteor signature around 11:20 AM, which makes it the likely culprit of the sounds,” the agency wrote on Facebook.

In a follow up post, NASA said the exploding meteor would have been easily noticed by residents on the ground if the morning had not been so overcast.

“Had it not been cloudy, the fireball would have been easily visible in the daylight sky – crude estimate indicates about 100 times the brightness of the Full Moon,” the agency wrote.

Satellite data recorded a flash over Washington County, Pennsylvania shortly before 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Shannon Hefferan told the Tribune-Review

She added that a similar event had occurred in mid-September in Hardy County, West Virginia.


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