Minivan-Sized Meteor Fireball Stuns Washington State
This past Wednesday, people from Oregon to British Columbia witnessed one of the biggest fireballs in years and heard what was likely a sonic boom, most likely the result of a minivan-sized meteor burning up in the Earth's atmosphere and crashing into the ocean. The meteor has been classified as a bolide, an especially bright and large chunk of rock that explodes in its descent, and caused a large number of reports from witnesses on the ground.
According to Chuck Wallace, a deputy emergency management director for Grays Harbor Country: "When I started getting phone calls from the entire coast…I knew it was a fairly large event, whatever it was."
Despite the large size of the meteor, it only takes tiny specks of material to create a brilliant light show—most meteors are only about the size of a pebble or grain of sand. NASA scientist Marc Fries estimates that only about 1% of Wednesday's meteor survived the descent into Earth's atmosphere and broke up into brick-sized chunks of rock and ice, which probably ended up in the ocean. Here's a video of the meteor lighting up the sky:
Fries estimates that this bolide was probably the biggest the area has seen in 20 years, but it's barely a blip on the radar compared to the Chelyabinsk meteor, which hit Russia in 2013. was about 56 feet in diameter and weighed 10,000 metric tons. The shockwave created by the rock's explosion was so powerful that it caused 1,200 injuries from shattering glass window panes.
Even larger than Chelyabink, however, is Bennu: 87 million tons and 1,600 feet wide, this asteroid has a small chance of hitting the Earth within the next century.
That's given NASA and several government agencies enough incentive to start building an asteroid defense plan involving new spacecraft and giant nuclear warheads, codenamed "HAMMER". Compared to the world-ending impact of Bennu, Washington State's minivan-sized rock is a bootleg firework.