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Meteor Hits Near Springfield, Missouri
2004 06 19
By Wes Johnson - News-Leader

Paul Kesterson was getting ready for work Friday morning when two thunderous explosions a split second apart rocked the sky above his home.

"It was loud enough to shake the house and rattle the windows," said Kesterson, owner of Marshfield TV and Electronics. "The dog's probably still hiding."

The rural Webster County man rushed outside, not sure what he'd find.

"There was a smoke trail in the sky, but it wasn't straight," he said. "It kind of came down at an angle, like a jet contrail that the wind had distorted."

The Webster County Sheriff's Department fielded nearly 20 phone calls from area residents around 9:20 a.m., concerned something had blown up.

Dispatchers checked with area quarries, which reported no blasting activity.

And no supersonic aircraft were in the skies above Webster County, according to Springfield airport and Fort Leonard Wood officials.

NASA scientist Mike Mumma said the likely culprit was a "sizable" meteor ripping apart as it blasted through the atmosphere at 100,000 mph.

"From the description of buildings and windows shaking, that's a fairly significant sonic boom," said Mumma, chief scientist of planetary research at Goddard Research Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It would have been much larger than fist-sized to make that loud of a noise and generate that much energy. I couldn't speculate how big, though."

Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object monitoring program in Pasadena, Calif., said a meteor that shakes homes and windows could have been the size of a small car.

"Statistically we can expect something that size twice a year, on average," he said. "Of course, most of the Earth's surface is ocean so we don't see them that often. Yours is a very unusual event."

Webster County Sheriff's Capt. Robert Brown said the explosion shook the upper floors of the courthouse.

The county's Emergency Management director was contacted, and the courthouse was checked to make sure it was secure, he said.

"We were on standby ready to go if anything really had happened," Brown said.

At the Marshfield Chevrolet Olds dealership, receptionist Lynn Bays said she heard a "big, loud explosion" while sitting at her desk.

"At first I thought it was a big bolt of lightning, but a lot louder," she said. "It was pretty wild."

Rebecca Tucker, owner of Marshfield Beauty Shop, said the blast sounded "just like a big sonic boom."

"I talked to my mother, and she said it really rattled her garage door," Tucker said.

Mumma said those kinds of reports without the presence of supersonic aircraft are consistent with a meteor hitting the atmosphere.

"An explosion like that usually occurs when a pressure wave builds up on the front face of the meteor,' he said. "Eventually it blows up into millions of pieces which burn up before they hit the ground."

Kesterson's description of hearing two sonic booms wasn't unusual, he said.

"That could have been a binary object coming in two meteors traveling together in space," Mumma said. "Each one would have generated a sonic boom as it entered the atmosphere."

On June 4, Seattle residents got a spectacular view of a meteor breaking apart.

The meteor lit up the sky at 2:40 a.m., and its brilliant glow was captured on dozens of security cameras across the city.

It exploded about 27 miles above Snohomish, Wash., its thunderous blast registering on many area earthquake detectors.

Based on eyewitness accounts and data from the earthquake monitors, officials estimated the Washington meteor's size to be about the size of a computer video monitor.

Oliver Manuel, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Missouri-Rolla, said it would be a fluke if anyone in Webster County found a piece of Friday's meteor.

The area is rocky and covered by forests, both of which would make finding a meteor fragment difficult.

"Hopefully there will be some meteorite fragments found," he said. "A common misconception is that they're too hot to pick up. But meteors ablate when they come in their surface melts off faster than it can heat the object. If you find one, you can pick it up."

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