The American Meteor Society has received reports of a bright fireball meteor being seen over the Great Lakes region of North America at about 8.10 am local time (about 1.10 am GMT) on Tuesday 16 January 2018. People have reported seeing the event from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ontario (Canada), with the majority of sightings coming from Michgan and Ohio. A fireball is defined as a meteor (shooting star) brighter than the planet Venus. These are typically caused by pieces of rock burning up in the atmosphere, but can be the result of man-made space-junk burning up on re-entry. The object was seen moving from northeast to southwest over the eastern part of the state.
The 16 January 2018 meteor seen from Michigan. Zack Lawler/WWMT.
The Object has been calculated to have been moving from east to west over the southeastern part of Michigan, and produced a loud booming noise that was recorded as a Magnitude 2.0 Earthquake by the United States Geological Survey. This has been interpretted as being indicative of a large, slow moving (about 45 000 km per hour) object, and it is thought likely that a number of meteorites will have reached the ground.
Map showing areas in southeast Michigan where sightings of the meteor were reported, and the route of the object (blue arrow). American Meteor Society.
Objects of this size probably enter the Earth's atmosphere several times a year, though unless they do so over populated areas they are unlikely to be noticed. They are officially described as fireballs if they produce a light brighter than the planet Venus. The brightness of a meteor is caused by friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is typically far greater than that caused by simple falling, due to the initial trajectory of the object. Such objects typically eventually explode in an airburst called by the friction, causing them to vanish as an luminous object. However this is not the end of the story as such explosions result in the production of a number of smaller objects, which fall to the ground under the influence of gravity (which does not cause the luminescence associated with friction-induced heating).
The recorded epicenter of the 16 January Michigan fireball-induced Earthquake (gold star) and areas where it was felt (blue and white squares). USGS.
These 'dark objects' do not continue along the path of the original bolide, but neither do they fall directly to the ground, but rather follow a course determined by the atmospheric currents (winds) through which the objects pass. Scientists are able to calculate potential trajectories for hypothetical dark objects derived from meteors using data from weather monitoring services.
Witness reports can help astronomers to understand these events. If you witness a fireball-type meteor over the UK you can report it to the American Meteor Society here.
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