Meteor mesmerizes Mid-Michigan, lights up night sky with a flash
(1/16/2018) - A bright blue and orange flash in the skies over Mid-Michigan grabbed everyone's attention Tuesday evening.
Just before 8:10 p.m., the flash lit up the night sky and caused a boom that could be seen and heard for miles.
Sightings were reported all around Metro Detroit, north of the Thumb and west to the Lansing area. Other sightings were reported in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed the object was a meteor. It was centered over Lake St. Clair about 4.5 miles east of St. Clair Shores in Macomb County.
A sonic boom caused by the meteor screaming through the atmosphere faster than the speed of sound and then the object exploding sent off blast waves strong enough to trigger earthquake sensors in Southeast Michigan.
The meteor appeared to move generally in the north to south direction over the area. It started as a fireball and appeared to break apart just before it disappeared above the horizon.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported that there was no evidence of any fragments crashing into the ground. It appears the entire object vaporized in the upper levels of the atmosphere.
Buddy Stark, the manager of Flint's Longway Planetarium, said the object likely was a meteor entering the atmosphere based on the speed it was moving in videos that captured the event.
"But then you see how quickly the shadows are moving from the light source in those videos demonstrates that the light source itself has to be moving pretty quickly, which tells you that's probably a meteor," he said.
Stark said the videos with a clear view of the sky as the object passed by definitely show a meteor.
He believes the object was a bollide type of meteor, which has a bright tail and some type of explosion at the end before it disappears.
"It has a bright trail and then enough of the forces as it comes down and hits the atmosphere enough of those upward forces from the atmosphere cause a lot of internal pressure. It explodes and you get a very bright flash at the end," Stark said.
He said the blue hues seen toward the beginning of the meteor's path likely were caused by the light bouncing off snow showers that were falling at the time. The orange toward the end was caused by the object exploding.
While very uncommon around Mid-Michigan, he said meteors entering the earth's atmosphere are are quite common -- possibly thousands every year.
"Most of them probably happen over the ocean. We have a lot of water on the planet, so you're not going to see those," Stark said. "Some of them might happen in the daytime, so you might hear it. But you might think it's some construction site somewhere. In the daytime you're not going to see the flash."
However, he pointed out most people who saw the meteor Tuesday night likely won't see another in their lifetime.
"You experienced a bit of history," Stark said. "It's a very unique thing."
Compared to other meteors that have been seen and heard over the past few years, Stark called this one rather mild. Some, including a meteor that exploded over Russia a few years ago, caused blast waves strong enough to shatter windows hundreds of miles away.
"That adds a whole other level of danger, because people go to the window to see what's happening and then the sonic boom hits," he said.
Stark believes the entire event likely took place fairly high in the atmosphere compared to some others, which explains why the boom wasn't heard all over and there were no reports of damage from the blast waves.
"Obviously much larger than a standard meteorite ... but not at all unheard of," he said.