California Meteor Broke Speed Record For Atmospheric Entry

A meteor that flew through the California sky in April broke the speed record for atmospheric entry as it streaked through the sky as a massive fireball.

The incident took place on April 22 over northern California’s gold country, reports the Scientific American. Meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens took the opportunity to search for pieces of the meteorite to study.

The meteorite was picked up by Doppler radar stations, allowing researchers to pinpoint the spot where it landed. Jenniskens and other researchers were able to pick up 77 pieces of the meteorite, though they were only a fraction of the object’s original mass.

The Scientific American notes that the meteor astronomer and his colleagues believe that the meteor hit the atmosphere at about 28.6 kilometers per second — or about 64,000 miles per hour. At that speed, the meteor broke the record as the highest entry velocity ever recorded for a recovered meteorite.

Named the Sutter’s Hill meteorite for it’s recovery area, the researchers were able to discover that the massive meteor was a rare variety called a carbonaceous chondrite. The Latino Post notes that the fragments recovered by Jenniskens and his colleagues may hold clues to the early stages of the universe.

The space rock is believed to have formed about 4.5 billion years ago and was part of a Jupiter-family comet that broke off around 50,000 years ago, according to The Latino Post. The meteor’s landing in April released the energy equivalent of about four kilotons of TNT, or about one-fourth the impact of the atomic bomb released on Hiroshima. Ed Allen, a resident in the area who heard the meteor land, recalled:

“I was out on my hillside burning some branches and so forth, and I heard this sonic boom. It wasn’t just one boom. It was a series of booms, literally right over my head.”

The meteor that broke the speed record displays “considerable diversity” of mineraology, petrography, and isotope and organic chemistry, according to Jenniskens. The meteor astronomer’s study about the California meteor will appear in the journal Science on Friday.

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