NEW: NASA blogger: The lack of fireball reports suggests a meteorite was not the cause
The Nicaraguan government says a meteorite crashed in woods near the capital
The crater is 39 feet (12 meters) across
The hunt is on for the remains of a meteorite
A meteorite crashed down in Managua, Nicaragua, late Saturday night, causing a loud explosion and leaving a crater 39 feet (12 meters) across, government officials said, according to The Associated Press. No damage or injuries were reported.
AP quoted government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo as saying they’ve determined it was a “relatively small” meteorite that “appears to have come off an asteroid that was passing close to Earth.”
NASA hasn’t confirmed a link between the meteorite and the asteroid. The newly discovered asteroid, called 2014 RC, was expected to pass safely above the Earth on Sunday, NASA said, at a distance of about 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) – just one-tenth the distance from the center of Earth to the moon. It was estimated to be 60 feet (18 meters) long.
Local media reported that scientists are trying to find remains of the meteorite, and Nicaragua is asking the United States to help investigate the event.
“All the evidence that we’ve confirmed on-site corresponds exactly with a meteorite,” Jose Millan with the Nicaraguan Institute of Earth Studies was quoted as saying on the Today Nicaragua website.
But NASA’s Bill Cooke is skeptical.
“It has been suggested that a meteorite may have caused this crater; however, the lack of fireball reports from the surrounding populated area seems to suggest some other cause,” Cooke wrote in a NASA blog post.
“The skies were partially clear, and an object capable of producing a crater this large would have also generated a very bright fireball (brighter than the Full Moon) that should have been seen over a wide area.”
The Today Nicaragua site reported the crater was found after a loud blast about 11:05 p.m. on Saturday. The Nicaragua Dispatch said the hole is in the woods near Managua’s Sandino International Airport and about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the Camino Real Hotel.
NASA’s Near Earth Object Program estimates there are thousands of asteroids that could threaten Earth, but experts say none of the ones being tracked is expected to hit the planet anytime soon.
Sometimes, though, space rocks sneak by the scientists and amateur astronomers who track them. On February 15, 2013, a nearly 60-foot-wide meteor plunged into Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk with the force of about 30 nuclear bombs. The blast injured about 1,500 people.
The Chelyabinsk meteor was undetected before it was spotted by local residents as it streaked across the sky. It exploded on the same day that Asteroid 2012 DA14, one that was being carefully tracked by NASA, safely passed by Earth.
NASA is trying to speed up the way it tracks potentially hazardous asteroids and to learn how to deflect rocks that threaten Earth. Its Asteroid Initiative includes a plan to capture an asteroid and tug it into orbit around the moon in the 2020s. If it works, astronauts will land on the asteroid, take samples and bring them back to Earth.