What's New?

Bad Astronomy

BA Blog
Q & BA
Bulletin Board

Bitesize Astronomy
Bad Astro Store
Mad Science
Fun Stuff
Site Info

Search the site
Powered by Google

- Universe Today
- The Nine Planets
- Mystery Investigators
- Slacker Astronomy
- Skepticality

Buy My Stuff
Bad Astronomy at
Keep Bad Astronomy close to your heart, and help make me filthy rich. Hey, it's either this or one of those really irritating PayPal donation buttons here.

Huge Meteor over El Paso

Week of November 10, 1997

image of El Paso meteor

Picture from Ken Regelman of Astronomical Research Network

Last month, in El Paso, Texas, the residents were stunned by a large explosion and flash of light over their city at 2:46 p.m. Although at first stories were confused, it turns out a smallish meteor burned up high in the Earth's atmosphere, exploding with the force of about a quarter ton of TNT. Besides scaring the residents, the explosion was sensed by a Los Alamos detector which was designed to "hear" nuclear explosions, but can also be used to listen for large meteors. They figure the rock was probably less than a meter wide! However, mass is not nearly as important as velocity in cases like this; if you double the mass of a meteor the energy in the explosion is also doubled, but if you double the velocity, the energy goes up by a factor of four! So something small can make a big bang if it's moving quickly enough. This one was probably coming in around 20-30 kilometers per second! You may feel better to know it blew up very high in the atmosphere, apparently causing no damage in the ground (although one witness said a rain of foil-like particles came down afterwards; I have not heard this conformed yet, but could it have been the vaporized meteor?).

If you want to learn what meteors don't do, check out my web page review of NBC's movie "Asteroid" (I found a copy of the movie at my local video store last weekend, unbelievably).

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

This page last modified

Subscribe to the Bad Astronomy Newsletter!

Talk about Bad Astronomy on the BA Bulletin Board!