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 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Scientists believe that a hot gas bubble was formed by multiple supernovas.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robonaut is the next generation dexterous robot
Life aboard the International Space Station.
updated 9:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
NASA's New Horizons mission hurtles toward Pluto in historic 3 billion mile expedition.
updated 4:44 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
Rosetta spacecraft arrives at its destination, Comet 67P after a 10-year journey around the solar system.
After a 10-year chase the Rosetta spacecraft is now orbiting a comet
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"Here comes the sun" indeed, and it was just barely all right.
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Seems NASA's fascination with the moon is in the past. It's focused on something far more menacing: incoming asteroids
updated 11:56 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Scientists looking for signs of life in the universe -- as well as another planet like our own -- are a lot closer to their goal than people realize.
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The U.S. Army brainchild "Project Horizon" was born. Its proposal to leap beyond the Soviets opened with the line: "There is a requirement for a manned military outpost on the moon."
updated 3:36 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Back in July 1969, I stood on the talcum-like lunar dust just a few feet from our home away from home, Eagle, the lunar module that transported Neil Armstrong and me to the bleak, crater-pocked moonscape.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
solar flare july 2014
From Earth, the sun appears as a constant circle of light, but when viewed in space a brilliant display of motion is revealed.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
The full moons of this summer -- July 12, August 10 and September 9 -- are supermoons, as NASA calls them.
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
If you think you saw a flying saucer over Hawaii, you might not be crazy -- except what you saw didn't come from outer space, though that may be its ultimate destination.
updated 9:47 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
The U.S. space shuttle program retired in 2011, leaving American astronauts to hitchhike into orbit. But after three long years, NASA's successor is almost ready to make an entrance.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
When I first poked my head inside Virgin Galactic's newest spaceship, I felt a little like I was getting a front-row seat to space history.
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
The sun is putting on a fireworks show again.
updated 7:02 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
A year is a very long time on Mars -- 687 days. NASA's Curiosity rover can attest that it's enough time for some unexpected life changes.
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
At least one corner of the solar system may be serving up an ice-and-water sandwich, with the possibility of life on the rocks.
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 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.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT