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article imageFireball meteor explodes above Ontario and New York State

By Robert Myles     May 8, 2014 in Science
Peterborough - From Ontario to New York State, last Sunday, many people reported seeing a possible meteor streaking across the sky before exploding in a blinding fireball near Toronto.
In what may have been a prelude to the expected Eta Aquarid meteor shower, at around 4:20 p.m. local time, Sunday, May 4, an object was spotted in the sky from parts of Ontario and upper New York State. The incident was caught on a number of dashcam cameras.
One showed what appeared to be a fireball streaking across the sky above Peterborough, Ont. In the split-second action, the object appears to explode in a blinding flash of light that one eyewitness described as being as bright as the sun.
An explosion was heard leading many to wonder if property on the ground had been damaged, but, fortunately, the object tore itself asunder high up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Cobourg, Ontario resident, Dana Petrillo, tweeted, “Felt like something actually hit the house. At first thought it might have been an explosion somewhere, then thought earthquake.”
Peter Brown, a professor at Western University in London, Ont., one of whose specialisms is meteor physics, described the object as “unequivocally a meteor,” reports CBC.
Professor Brown said most of the equipment used to track meteors was not operating at the time the incident occurred but through a series of microphones, the university had registered a shock-wave that was also felt in Peterborough, Ont.
Data from the shock-wave allowed the university to estimate the size of the meteor, said the professor. He put the explosive force at, “somewhere in the order of a few tens of tons of TNT explosive equivalent.”
Brown told CBC, "That would translate into something on the order of half to one metre in diameter and that's going to be a mass of a few metric tons."
Later Margaret Campbell-Brown, associate professor of physics and astronomy, also at Western University, confirmed to Global News the object sighted was indeed a meteor. Based on infra-sound data on the object, Campbell-Brown said, “We think that the object was about between half a metre to one metre in size,” adding, “So it would have weighed a few hundred kilograms, maybe up to a metric tonne. So it was a reasonably large object.”
Coming just less than two weeks after three former astronauts gave a major presentation in Seattle on the privately-funded B612 Foundation aiming to put an telescope in space to predict threats to Earth from rogue asteroids, the Toronto meteor once again threw into sharp focus the threat posed by such objects.
Given the size of the Toronto meteor, it’s unlikely that B612 could have issued any forewarning but last weekend’s violent meteor explosion over Ontario once again illustrates the sheer power of space debris heading our way.
In asteroid terms, the Toronto meteor was no more than a nugget, but a nugget packing a potentially destructive explosive punch. In the past, much larger and more destructive objects have struck Canada.
Just this week, new research from the University of Alberta points to a giant meteor having gouged a chunk out of southern Alberta at some point in the last 70 million years. That impact, had it occurred today, would have been powerful enough to wipe present-day Calgary off the map, leaving a crater five miles (8km) wide.
The Toronto meteor was probably one of the advance guard of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower that occurs each year between April 21 and May 20. Activity from the Eta Aquarid meteor shower usually peaks around May 6. Eta Aquarid meteors are associated with Halley’s Comet but are thought to be chunks that broke off from the comet hundreds of years ago. Halley’s Comet itself is only visible from Earth every 75 years or so.
As with all possible meteor sightings, the American Meteor Society is encouraging members of the public to file an official fireball report if they happened to witness last weekend’s sky spectacular above Ontario.
Related article:
Killer nuclear-level asteroids from space — but help is at hand
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