Meteor Watch: Time to Look Up

Looking up may have been useless the other day in Pennsylvania because of the cloud cover, but shaking houses were evidence enough of a meteor exploding in the atmosphere. On New Year’s Day, the incoming meteor exploded over southwestern Pennsylvania with the force of 30 tons of TNT.

The Facebook page for the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, PA explained the initial situation (image below):

We have been getting a lot of questions about a loud explosion that was heard over southwest Pennsylvania earlier today. Data from GOES-16 may provide a clue.

This image is a product of the satellite’s Geostationary Lightning Mapper function, showing Total Optical Energy (basically, a measure of flash intensity). You can see the flash showing up here in the area of western Washington County, PA at 16:22Z (11:22 EST). This flash does not appear to be connected to any lightning activity in the area. One possible explanation is that a meteor exploded at some level above the ground. We do not have any confirmation of this at this time, but it seems to be the most likely explanation.

Later on, NASA Meteor Watch confirmed it was a meteor breaking up in the atmosphere. The meteor was estimated to be about a yard in diameter and weigh approximately half a ton.