Minivan-size meteor made Calif. fireball

April 24, 2012 at 7:37 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., April 24 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers estimate the size of the meteor that caused a giant fireball over California and Nevada was about the size of your average minivan.

The bright ball of light traveling east to west was seen over central and northern California Sunday morning, as the 150,000-pound space rock entered Earth's atmosphere about 11 a.m. EDT.

Reports of the fireball came from as far north as Sacramento and as far east as North Las Vegas, Nev., a release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said Tuesday.

As it disintegrated it released energy equivalent to a 5-kiloton explosion, researchers estimate.

"Most meteors you see in the night's sky are the size of tiny stones or even grains of sand and their trail lasts all of a second or two," Don Yeomans of JPL's Near-Earth Object Program Office said.

"Fireballs you can see relatively easily in the daytime and are many times that size -- anywhere from a baseball-sized object to something as big as a minivan."

The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," scans for asteroids and comets passing close to Earth and establishes their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Objects as big as the one that exploded over California are rare, Yeomans said.

"An event of this size might happen about once a year," he said. "But most of them occur over the ocean or an uninhabited area, so getting to see one is something special."

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