Skip to main content

Meteor explodes over Arizona; big meteor shower begins

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 9:25 PM EST, Wed December 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The largest meteor shower of the year, Geminid, is cranking up
  • NEW: The Tucson meteor coincided with Geminid, but was not part of it
  • A resounding boom over Tucson roused residents from their dinner tables Tuesday
  • A dash cam caught the meteor on video

(CNN) -- A resounding boom over Tucson, Arizona, roused residents from their dinner tables Tuesday and had them pointing up to the sky.

With the largest meteor shower of the year around the corner, the heavens seemed to be giving them a sneak preview. A whopper of a fireball roared over their heads and exploded, rattling their houses.

A dash cam captured it on video as it vanished in a bright blaze.

The spectacular annual Geminid meteor shower kicks into high gear Thursday night, NASA said, and people around the world will be able to enjoy it.

Some of its meteors have already been dashing through Earth's atmosphere. The agency recorded nine of them Tuesday night.

But the Tucson meteor did not appear to be one of them, said NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, who analyzed the flying space rock after two NASA cameras in Arizona recorded it on video.

Traveling at 45,000 mph, it was too slow.

"A Geminid moves at 78,000 mph," he said. And the direction it came from was not typical for a meteor from the big shower.

The Arizona fireball was just one of the handful of "sporadic background" meteors that whiz through the atmosphere every day.

But this was a big one, Cooke confirmed. It weighed about 100 pounds and was about 16 inches thick. It made quite a bright flash, as it burned up in the atmosphere.

Even with 100 to 120 meteors per hour coming down during its peak on Friday and Saturday, the Geminid shower now has a tough act to follow.

Kaboom!

Astronomer Tod Lauer heard the blast but did not bother to look outside.

"We were eating dinner and heard a good bang that rattled the roof of our house. I dismissed it as a sonic boom," he posted to Facebook.

He realized it had to be more than that, when a local TV station phoned the scientist, who studies images from the Hubble Space Telescope, to ask him to explain what had happened.

Frantic eyewitnesses across the state called local news outlets to report what they saw.

The explosion shook Tony Kubrak's house, too, he told CNN affiliate KGUN, which received a flood of calls and hundreds of posts to its Facebook page.

Kubrak went outside to check it out.

"I see this tremendous, white, bright light in the western sky. And it was just ... it was absolutely enormous, I couldn't believe it."

Others took to social media.

"Did y'all see the meteor that flew above Tucson? Crazzzzy. That was toooo craaaazy!" Tucson resident Eric Gomez posted on Twitter.

Watch Geminid!

People around the world can share some of the thrill that bedazzled Arizonans until at least Monday, NASA said. The Geminid meteor shower will be "rich in fire balls."

"Of all the debris streams Earth passes through every year, the Geminids are by far the most massive," he said. "When we add up the amount of dust in the Geminid stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500."

NASA calls it the 900-pound gorilla of meteor showers.

Most meteor large showers are caused by comets, which are loosely put together with lots of debris in tow that fly into the atmosphere -- but not Geminid.

An asteroid large space rock named 3200 Phaethon flings the stardust that makes the sparkling magic.

Of all the named asteroids, it is the one that flies closest to the sun, Cooke said -- 2.5 times closer than the planet Mercury.

It's a bit of a mystery why 3200 Phaeton is flying with so much debris, Cooke said. He thinks perhaps it was produced by a collision eons ago with another asteroid.

Geminid contains the name of the constellation Gemini, which is the direction the meteors will be coming from.

They can be viewed well starting at 11 p.m., but Cooke recommends waiting until an hour before dawn, "if you can stand the cold." That will give the bright moon time to set and allow the heavens to darken.

Don't use a telescope or binoculars. He recommends lying flat on your back in a sleeping bag so you can take in as much of the sky as possible.

He won't be joining you, but will wait until morning to watch video recordings captured by NASA's cameras -- for comfort's sake, he said.

"I'm too old to freeze my rear off anymore."

CNN's Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Space
updated 11:03 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Planetary nebula Abell 33 has taken on romantic proportions.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
You can't see it happening on Earth, but space itself is stretching. Ever since the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, the universe has been getting bigger.
updated 4:59 PM EDT, Wed March 26, 2014
Scientists have added another celestial body to the short list of objects in our solar system that have rings around them.
updated 1:59 PM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Astronomers have discovered a dwarf planet that's even farther away than Pluto.
updated 7:59 AM EST, Fri February 28, 2014
Our galactic neighborhood just got a lot bigger. NASA announced the discovery of 715 new planets.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding how our world as we know it came to be.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
From a sheep ranch in Western Australia comes the oldest slice of Earth we know.
updated 2:02 PM EST, Wed February 19, 2014
Cassiopeia A was a star more than eight times the mass of our sun before it exploded in the cataclysmic, fiery death astronomers call a supernova.
updated 5:07 PM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
Researchers have found clues that water could be flowing in the present, at least during warm seasons.
updated 11:02 AM EST, Sat February 15, 2014
The "jelly doughnut" rock that seemed to appear out of nowhere on Mars last month did not fall out of an extraterrestrial pastry box.
updated 10:56 PM EST, Thu February 6, 2014
It's a dot in the sky.
updated 2:44 AM EST, Thu February 13, 2014
Reports of Jade Rabbit's demise may have been premature.
updated 8:58 AM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
It's rare for astronomers to spot a planet in a star cluster. That's partly why a cluster called Messier 67 is so special: We now know that it has three planets orbiting stars.
updated 7:03 AM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
What do you need to map a billion stars? A billion-pixel camera certainly helps.
updated 2:50 PM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
NASA's rover Curiosity has now given scientists the strongest evidence to date that the environment on the Red Planet could have supported life billions of years ago.
updated 12:45 PM EST, Sat December 7, 2013
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided your multicolored space distraction of the day: images of a swirling, six-sided weather feature on the surface of Saturn.
updated 3:23 PM EST, Mon December 9, 2013
Imagine the delight at unwrapping your Christmas present in 2043 and discovering you've been gifted a trip around the Moon.
updated 5:06 PM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
A Dutch company says it is moving along with its plan to send four lucky Earthlings to colonize the Red Planet. The catch: They won't ever come back.
updated 12:11 PM EST, Tue November 19, 2013
You may have heard it before: billions of years ago Mars probably looked more like Earth does now, with clouds and oceans and a much thicker atmosphere.
updated 10:52 AM EST, Wed November 13, 2013
NASA has given the people of Earth a rare treat: A color mosaic that captures not only Saturn, but also the tiny dots of Earth and other planets in the background.
updated 12:39 PM EST, Tue November 5, 2013
Ever have one of those days where you just wanna be alone, maybe have the planet to yourself?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT