A meteor-like object that lit up the Arizona sky early Thursday morning near Payson darted through the Earth's atmosphere at about 40,000 miles per hour, leaving residents wondering what exactly the "bright fireball" was.
NASA later confirmed that the object was actually a small asteroid about 10 feet in diameter that flashed in the sky just before 4 a.m., according to the Arizona Republic
. An Arizona Geological Survey report picked up an impact near Payson, and officials believe that was the point of the asteroid's detonation.
"There are no reports of any damage or injuries — just a lot of light and few sonic booms," Bill Cooke, of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office
in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a NASA statement. "If Doppler radar is any indication, there are almost certainly meteorites scattered on the ground north of Tucson."
According to Universe Today, a meteor
is a meteoroid (a small rock or particle that orbits the Sun) that enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes. Think of it as what we commonly call a shooting star. An asteroid, meanwhile, is a large rocky body that's in orbit around the Sun, the site says.
Cooke said in the NASA statement that experts were having difficulty obtaining data on Thursday's fireball from meteor camera videos since many of the cameras "were almost completely saturated by the bright event."
The Arizona Republic reported that a motorist traveling on Interstate 40 near Kingman managed to capture the flying object on a GoPro camera. Mark Olhava told the newspaper he woke up to his driving co-worker's reaction to the asteroid.
Olhava told the Republic he then downloaded the video and watched it. He said it is now in use by several news outlets.
While the asteroid was mainly seen in Arizona, witnesses in Utah, New Mexico, California, Texas, and Nevada claimed they saw it as well, the Arizona Republic reported.
The American Meteor Society stated on its website
that it received more than 340 reports about the flash.
"Every day, about 80 to 100 tons of material falls upon the Earth from space in the form of dust and meteorites," the NASA statement read. "Over the past 20 years, U.S. government sensors have detected nearly 600 small asteroids, a few meters in size, which have entered the Earth's atmosphere and created spectacular bolides."
"The superbolide that impacted over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 is estimated to have been 65 feet in size and released over 800 times the energy of the Arizona fireball. Impacts of that size take place a few times a century, and impacts of larger asteroids are expected to be far less frequent (on the scale of centuries to millennia) but can happen on any day," the statement continued.
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