Residents in the Pittsburgh area have been reporting a huge “boom” above the city, leaving officials rushing to find answers to explain the mysterious sound.
Authorities were initially confused by reports of a loud boom on New Year’s Day which shook the ground in some suburban neighborhoods.
After confirming that there had been no thunder seismic activity, or manmade explosions in the region, the National Weather Service concluded that the most likely explanation was that a meteor had exploded in the air above the city, resulting in a huge boom and a flash of light.
Massive boom heard around Pittsburgh
The flash and boom were recorded at 11:30 A.M. on New Year’s Day, with satellite data confirming that something had occurred in the skies over Pittsburgh.
While the meteor theory is not confirmed, authorities are unaware of anything else which might have caused the crash, which was heard by local residents.
Most extraterrestrial objects which enter Earth’s atmosphere are comparatively tiny and burn up on entry, becoming what we usually refer to as “shooting stars.”
Larger meteors are able to penetrate further into the atmosphere before exploding, creating an effect which is similar to airburst shells or bombs in military use.
Dozens of these explosions are recorded every year, though the vast majority are too small to cause any physical damage to anything on the ground.
The Pittsburgh airburst was apparently not detected before exploding, though no damage has been reported and it seems likely that it was one of these minor events.
Meteor airburst blamed
Meteor airbursts can be extremely dangerous if they are large and powerful enough and happen to explode over a populated area, like Pittsburgh.
The largest such blast in history is believed to have been the Tunguska event, a massive explosion which toppled an estimated 80 million trees and flattened more than 800 square miles of forest.
Fortunately, this 1908 incident occurred in Eastern Siberia, one of the most sparsely populated places in the world. Aside from trees, there wasn’t much in the area to be destroyed by the blast.
The Tunguska event is believed to have been as powerful as a nuclear detonation. In 2013 a much smaller airburst smashed windows and caused some injuries in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
If an airburst the size of the Tunguska meteor or even the Chelyabinsk meteor had exploded over Pittsburgh the results could have been devastating.
Fortunately, the city got nothing more than a loud boom and a flash, providing an unexpected addition to the New Year’s festivities.