Booming is business

The entire universe in blog form
March 12 2009 7:41 AM

Booming is business

Something seems to be shaking up America. Literally.

Last Saturday, people in New York reported hearing a loud boom, like a sonic boom. Houses shook, and a woman reported seeing a yellow streak across the sky.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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The news is reporting it as a potential meteor (they actually say "meteorite", but that's what they're called only after they reach the ground). That's certainly possible; if it got low enough it could create a sonic boom. Still, it's not completely certain. Meteors are pretty common; if you go outside in a dark site for an hour you're likely to see several. So the woman's report may be coincidence; anything big enough to make a sonic boom would have been a lot more dramatic than "...a yellow light streaking across the sky." But they didn't directly quote the woman so I don't know just how bright this was.

The article does say Doppler radar shows something that looks like it could have been a meteor, though, so this is an interesting story. They also said another boom was heard in a nearby area Monday morning as well.

And that's not all! In southern California last Wednesday there were also reports of a loud boom. Apparently there were no earthquakes reported, and there were no military planes going supersonic. This time there are no reports of meteors that I have found.

Are we under attack? I've been getting email from people asking if this activity is unusual, but I don't think it is. I think that it's happening all the time, but people are noticing it more due to the way we get information. The internet is almost instantaneous now, with email and social networks like Twitter able to spread news in literally seconds and minutes.

Plus, still and video cameras are a lot more common, so we see more footage of meteors as well, with bright fireballs like the one over Texas recently grabbing headlines. So it's not necessarily that it's happening more often, but that we're seeing and hearing about it more.

So if you hear a loud noise some night, or witness a bright fireball, don't panic! Grab your camera instead.

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