A light reported over South Carolina has locals looking for answers. The object, which appeared late at night on Monday was spotted very suddenly high in the sky before it suddenly grew larger and then exploded, disappearing into a quickly dispersing haze. While some are saying it was likely a meteorite, others are asking how a meteorite this large managed to reach Earth without anyone noticing.
The meteor, thought at first by residents to be a UFO, appeared in the night sky without warning. Generally, meteors are unpredictable, but the larger bolides are generally expected to come in the wake of a much larger body as the Earth passes through it. Meteors of this size are generally not expected with the time frame of most large meteors being observed well in advance.
This event, however, may have been the result of a rogue meteor that somehow strayed far from where it was expected to be and found itself caught in Earth's gravity where it entered the atmosphere and burned up on impact. The asteroid was spotted by hundreds and elicited over 30 calls to 911 just after it happened.
Accompanying the mysterious object was a loud thunderous boom that trembled the Earth. Rather than being the result of an actual impact with the ground, officials suggest it may have been due to the sudden change in temperature. As asteroids enter the Earth's atmosphere they must undergo incredible heat. It's expected the temperature in front of meteors can reach as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This heat is the phenomenon that so often causes the glow of rocks and bits of metal as they enter the Earth's atmosphere. As the lightning fast rock moves downward, the friction of the air passing in front of and around it must expand - creating a tremendous amount of heat as it moves through the air. As it heats, gas and moisture within the meteorite expands which could have caused the tremendous explosion heard throughout the area.
But not all objects falling to Earth are meteorites. Other possibilities include spacecraft from Earth - or somewhere else. It was this very possibility that was on the minds of many witnesses as they spotted the glowing object lighting up the sky as night momentarily turned to day and then back again in the blink of an eye. Despite the object's massive size, it is thought to have exploded and broken up into much smaller pieces which could have either disintegrated or cooled as they plummeted to Earth. It's possible several tiny pieces of this falling object could have reached the ground.
"Unscheduled" meteorites such as this one are in themselves an interesting rarity, but to see one this large is of particular interest to astronomers who are still waiting for the next big meteor shower said to occur some time between April 21st and 22nd depending on where you are in the world. Will we see more brilliant fireballs like this one? All the more reason to watch the skies.
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