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News & Events On Our Changing Planet

9/12/2006

Massive sonic boom from meteor

BREAKING COSMIC/SPACE NEWS: NEW ZEALAND
METEOR ALERT
POSTED: 10:18 a.m. EDT, September 12, 2006
A massive sonic boom rent the skies above Canterbury today as a meteor sped to its fiery end – but if, and where, it fell remains a mystery.
Scientists said the boom was heard as far afield as Wellington, and sightings of a bright speeding light, then cloud of smoke as the meteor apparently burst into a fireball, were reported all over Christchurch.
One astronomer said it was likely the meteor completely disintegrated when it burst into flames, and debris from the alien visitor was unlikely to be found.
The meteor was detected by instruments used to measure earthquakes at two Canterbury recording sites.
Kevin Graham was working in his garage workshop in Rolleston, 22km southwest of Christchurch, when he heard the boom.
His first thought was it was a September 11 anniversary attack, he said.
"I don't frighten very easily but I was just about shitting myself," he said.
He spoke by phone to his wife in the Christchurch suburb of Addington who had run outside because she thought the Addington Raceway stand was going to collapse.
"I ran outside because I thought my place was going to collapse as well," Mr Graham said.
He said the sound shook the garage and he could feel shock waves in the air.
"It started off with a little boom then a real massive boom. And I mean massive – like the daddy of all booms," he said.
"I was wondering what happened and I thought `oh, September 12', because we're a day ahead of the States.
Emergency services were inundated with calls from the public about the noise.
Christchurch Fire Communications received its first calls from the public started at 2.53pm today, with people reporting windows rattling and the air "shaking".
Police communications fielded over 100 calls in quick time.
Hanmer Springs police officer Senior Constable Chris Hughey likened the meteor to Haley's Comet, which he saw when it last passed near Earth in 1986.
"All it looked like was a vapour trail from a plane coming in at huge altitude," he said.
"It was a crystal clear day here in Hanmer and it appeared to have a red ball or something at the front. Then it split into about three and just disappeared."
Mr Hughey said he did not hear the loud sonic boom.
He had seen a few small meteors "coming in here and there" over the years but nothing like today's one.
"Never coming in on that angle.

Photo: TRAIL: An image of the vapour rings left by the meteor was captured in Christchurch.CAVAN O'CONNELL/Christchurch Press

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