Fireball rattles southern Oswego County

This map created by the American Meteor Society shows the approximate location of Wednesday's fireball.

VOLNEY, N.Y. — A “fireball” shook portions of southern Oswego County and central New York Wednesday afternoon and lit up the sky in places as far away as Virginia.

More than 85 individuals — ranging from Michigan to the east coast and Canada — reported sightings of a fiery trajectory in the sky early Wednesday afternoon to the American Meteor Society (AMS). Eyewitnesses described the likely meteor as a “streak then gold metallic flash” and “ball of fire,” but locally overcast skies thwarted visual sightings and left communities puzzled by an unexplained, molar-loosening boom.

Reports of a explosion-like sound that shook buildings came in from southern Oswego County and Onondaga County, with the nearest eyewitness accounts located in western New York and Ontario, Canada. Witnesses said the “fireball with a tail” flew brightly across the sky for about 1 to 3 seconds.  

Scientists believe the fiery blaze, which likely was seen while flying across the sky somewhere above the Rochester area, was a small meteor traveling as fast as 60,000 miles per hour — or more than twice as fast as a spaceship leaving earth.   

“We think it was a fast meteor of around 30 kilometers per second, so you're talking about 60,000 mph,” said Dr. Denis Vida, a postdoctoral associate in physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

Scientists aren't certain of the size yet, but Vida noted it was likely an object about the size of a basketball, or about 10 inches in diameter. Vida, the founder and coordinator of the Global Meteor Network, told The Palladium-Times the “basketball-sized object” likely entered earth's atmosphere at an angle of about 45 degrees traveling so fast it was “crushed by the atmosphere.”

“If the velocity were lower than we currently think there probably are some meteorites on the ground, if not, then the body completely disintegrated during the main fragmentation,” Vida said. “And that main fragmentation caused that boom, explosion that people heard.”

More than 500 miles from the believed location of the fireball, an eyewitness in Richmond, Virginia described it as “extremely vivid and big,” and told AMS that they “thought it was the end of the world for a minute.” Video footage posted on social media showed a bright flash across the entire sky from the top of the CN Tower in Toronto at 12:03 p.m., and a number of amateur videos circulated on social media throughout the afternoon.

Such events aren't entirely uncommon, Vida said, noting similar events can occur globally as frequently as once a day to as infrequently as once every few weeks.

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