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Doubts as to whether Nicaraguan blast was cause by meteorite

"For something to produce a hole in the ground that big, it would have generated a very bright fireball," said Bill Cooke.
By Brooks Hays   |   Sept. 12, 2014 at 12:02 PM

MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Astronomers, including experts at NASA, have questioned whether the blast and crater, reported earlier this week outside the Nicaraguan capital, were actually the product of a meteorite.

Initial reports, including information issued by the Nicaraguan government, suggested a piece of space rock broke off from a larger asteroid passing between the Earth and its moon -- creating a sizable crater, measuring roughly 40 feet across, near Managua's international airport.

But NASA officials say the lack of eyewitness accounts raises doubts about that scenario. Plus, astronomers say, the timeline doesn't work out.

"This event was separated by 13 hours from the close Earth approach of 2014 RC, so the explosion and the asteroid are unrelated," NASA asteroid expert Don Yeomans told National Geographic. "There was no obvious optical fireball or debris trail seen prior to the explosion, so it seems unlikely that the explosion in Nicaragua was related to a meteorite impact."

Yeomans' doubts are shared by Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. Cooke says the energy needed to create such a crater would be the equivalent of a single ton of dynamite.

"For something to produce a hole in the ground that big, it would have generated a very bright fireball. And nothing was reported ... despite the population," Cooke told Sci-Tech Today. "So I'm very skeptical."

Nicaraguan officials are apparently now quite confused themselves, and have asked the U.S. to help sort the whole thing out.

"Considering the small amount of experience and the lack of research means, Nicaragua desires to request the good offices of the (US) embassy to get the support of the US Geological Survey," the country's deputy foreign minister, Orlando Gomez, wrote in a letter to the U.S. Ambassador in Managua, Phyllis Powers.

It's not yet clear whether the U.S. will provide investigative assistance -- or what the assistance would look like.

Whatever created the hole in the woods near Managua's airport, it packed a serious punch. The government says its scientists recorded the impact at 24 seismic stations.

Topics: Don Yeomans
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