East Coast Bolide Triggers Hunt for Meteorites

A blazing-bright fireball that lit up the early evening sky on January 30th appears to have scattered meteorites near the Pennsylvania- Maryland border. Now the search is on to find them.

Meteorites strike Earth all the time. According to one well-regarded estimate, 1-kilogram "falls" happen an average of five times every day somewhere on our planet's surface. But we skywatchers still fantasize about seeing a chunk of interplanetary debris plunge through the atmosphere and scatter space rocks nearby. It's visceral, immediate, and totally unexpected.

Map of bolide sightings on 30 Jan 2016

Many people reported seeing the brilliant bolide on January 30, 2016.
Dirk Ross / LunarMeteoriteHunters

That's apparently what happened early on the evening of January 30th, when observers from southern Canada to North Carolina witnessed a very bright bolide (exploding fireball) streak across the sky at about 6:16 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. It was Saturday night, with generally pleasant weather up and down the East Coast, so lots of people saw the event.

Observing from Pittsburgh, Dave Wilton saw four or five fragments of various sizes well before the bolide's final flare, which he estimates as perhaps –10 in magnitude. Pilot Mike Grossman captured the fiery flash while on approach to land in Newark, New Jersey. And Alexander Salvador caught the streak on his dashcam while driving through Falls Church, Virginia:

Electronic "eyes" spotted it too. California-based sky-sleuth Rob Matson has tracked down five radar echoes of dust that lingered in the atmosphere after the intruder's plunge, and a USGS seismic station in Standing Stone, Pennsylvania, recorded the concussion of the object's violent atmospheric breakup.

The radar echoes are centered about 8 km west-northwest of Chaneysville, Pennsylvania, Matson says, a spot abutting Buchanan State Forest about 14 km north of the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. It's a "heavily forested area, unfortunately," Matson says, though some meteoritic stones perhaps fell over farmland a little farther west.

A team of searchers is in the area now, hoping to pick up freshly fallen fragments. I'll update this post if anything is found. In the meantime, check out these eyewitness reports and videos.

3 thoughts on “East Coast Bolide Triggers Hunt for Meteorites

  1. Gerald-Hanner

    When the alleged sonic booms were reported the other day, and the military denied flying supersonic, the only thing it could have been was one or more space rocks hitting the atmosphere.

  2. mrhladek

    If anyone is out and about in the area, my school recently launched a weather balloon that was predicted to land in the same area, right along the PA/MA border. Unfortunately our GPS lost signal about 20 minutes into the flight and we have yet to recover. So if you’re looking, please look up occasionally as well for a white styrofoam cooler attached to a blue and orange parachute. Thanks! Fingers crossed…

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