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Massive boom heard across Central New York was likely an exploding space rock

Published Sep 4th, 2019 2:34PM EDT
fireball new york
Image: Reid Wiseman/NASA

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If you’re a resident of New York state and happened to be hanging around outside on Monday evening you might have heard something unexpected. Several individuals across the central portion of the state reported hearing a loud boom which had no obvious source. Now, scientists think they have an explanation.

According to the American Meteor Society, the reports of a booming sound match closely with other reports of a fireball sighting near Lake Ontario. The timing of the sound and eyewitness reports of a bright streak in the sky which lasted for about a minute are telltale signs of a fireball exploding in Earth’s atmosphere.

When pint-sized space rocks end up on a collision course with Earth they are often destroyed before they even have a chance to reach the ground. The intense friction with our planet’s atmosphere causes them to burst into flames and, in some cases, explode as they die.

The booming sound produced by such an explosion can often be heard for many miles, and even if you don’t see the fireball’s brief appearance in the sky, you’re likely to hear it. The American Meteor Society’s fireball tracker now has 19 reports from people who say they either heard or saw the meteor (or both).

The blast was reportedly quite loud, with some residents closest to the fireball’s location saying that it shook their homes and caused a bit of a panic. The good news is that nobody was hurt, and there haven’t been any reports of debris leftover from the rock making it to the ground.

Small rocks like the one in this case are simply too tiny to be spotted from Earth before they arrive, making the appearance of fireballs largely unpredictable. Thankfully, they rarely do much damage.