Asteroid Explodes Over Cuba With Force of 1,400 Tons of TNT

Asteroid

Several meteorites have been found in western Cuba after a fireball blazed across the sky on Friday, Feb. 1.

The bolide reportedly traveled over West Palm Beach and across the Florida Keys, finishing with a sonic boom as it exploded and rained debris over Viñales, a town in the Caribbean island.

Locals reported a yellow-orange-colored asteroid, followed by a long, persistent smoke trail; several residents picked up black rocks showing the distinctive fusion crust seen in chondrite meteorites, EarthSky reported.

Astronomers believe the space rock that disintegrated over Cuba was approximately the size of a van before entering Earth’s atmosphere.

Which, when put into perspective, is actually quite small: A house-sized asteroid entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in early 2013; its shock wave, according to EarthSky, broke windows in six cities and sent some 1,500 people to the hospital.

The Cuban event—picked up by the National Weather Service Key West’s radar about 26,000 feet off the ground—was caught on film by seemingly terrified locals, as well as a webcam in Ft. Myer.

NASA’s space-bound Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) captured the meteor flash in what looks like a blip on the radar during a lightning storm over the Gulf of Mexico.

But cell phone cameras, streaming videos, and scanning systems don’t do the powerful event justice. According to data from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, the object’s collision with Earth’s atmosphere released the energy of about 1,400 tons of TNT.

Such forceful impacts, however, are not uncommon. As EarthSky pointed out, “good-sized” meteors strike the atmosphere frequently.

“Fortunately, Earth’s atmosphere causes most of these space rocks to disintegrate,” the site said, citing astronomers who claim “Earth is in no imminent danger of collision with any large, dangerous asteroid.”

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