From The Gazette

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After mysterious noise, experts hope for more evidence

The loud boom and bright flash observed around Montreal on Tuesday evening was probably a meteor, but the night’s cloudy weather has made a definitive answer elusive, experts say.

“The fact that this was seen pretty widely, from the Montreal area almost to Ottawa and down into the northern part of the U.S., that does argue toward a meteor event, I believe,” explained Robert Hawkes, a physics professor and meteor researcher at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.

But more evidence is needed to confirm whether the event was a meteor or some kind of unusual atmospheric phenomenon, he said.

Witnesses across the area reported seeing a green or blue flash and hearing a bang shortly before 8 p.m. So far, few appear to have reported seeing the meteor itself.

Others reported hearing a sound like a large truck or a freight train.

Air Canada pilot Rick Reed was flying through a cloud at about 24,000 feet about 30 kilometres southeast of Ottawa when he saw the flash.

“It was like being in a room where somebody turns a blue light on and turns it off,” Reed said.

Flying near thunderstorms, pilots often see lightning flashes inside clouds, and occasionally will spot meteor showers, he said, but this was noticeably different.

“In 36 years of flying, I’ve never seen anything like this, so it certainly got my attention,” Reed said.

In St-Basile-le-Grand, Guylaine Valois reported seeing a white ball speeding across the sky, leaving a white trail.

The Sûreté du Québec said they received several calls about the event, but had not been able to pinpoint the source of the noise.

“The problem is that the weather just sucked last night. It was totally overcast, so nobody would see anything,” explained Montreal-based astronomy writer Andrew Fazekas.

Clouds also blocked a network of cameras operated by the University of Western Ontario’s Meteor Physics Group, which did not pick up any images of the event.

Two videos taken from two locations would be enough to give a good idea of the meteor’s position, Hawkes said.

“Unless there are camera records, it’s a hopeless job to even think about finding them unless you’re lucky and they just happen to fall somewhere where someone sees them,” Hawkes said.

If not because of the poor weather, the lack of video evidence may also suggest that the meteor was visible only briefly, he said.

That would suggest that it was travelling very quickly and probably burned up before hitting the ground, Hawkes explained.

Smaller fireballs in the sky are fairly common, said Alan Hildebrand, a University of Calgary earth sciences professor and coordinator for the Canadian Fireball Reporting Centre.

A handful are usually visible every year in any given area of the sky, Hildebrand said.

In 2013, the American Meteor Society collected 3,000 reports of fireballs spotted around the world.

“A rock coming into the atmosphere can be the size of a golf ball or basketball or the kitchen sink or your car,” he said.

Objects of a larger mass will produce more light and noise, and can cause damage if they reach the ground or explode at a low enough altitude.

The meteor that exploded in February over Chelyabinsk, Russia, for example, was 20 metres wide and weighed almost 12,000 tonnes.

The explosion injured over 1,000 people, blew out windows and damaged hundreds of buildings.

No damage has been reported since the event on Tuesday night, which suggests a small meteor may have caused the flash and bang, Fazekas said.

Anyone who witnessed the event can submit a report to the Meteorite and Impact Advisory Committee, a group of scientists who investigate meteor events.

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4 comments

  1. Pingback: The Big Boom: Experts hope for more evidence | newsquebec

  2. By BCstargazer

    very good article on this event. thanks to this kind of writing, more people will come forward that could narrow down where small debris might have come down. the snow won’t help though.

  3. Mulder, it’s me… They’re calling it a meteor, or possibly some unusual atmospheric phenomenon… I know you think it’s a UFO but without any concrete scientific proof, we simply cannot proceed with this theory… Mulder, relating this event to alien technology or even vaguely deeming it a UFO won’t bring Samantha back. She’s gone, Mulder. This isn’t an X-File.

  4. By Robert Hawkes

    Thanks for the article. Just to clarify the infographic data, the approx. 23 km/s speed is the highest speed of a measured meteor event that resulted in a recovered meteorite. Meteors themselves have been recorded right up to the 73 km/s limit (and a bit beyond) of course. I am surprised by the data in the “How frequent…” box. The total number of estimated meteorite falls annually around the Earth is much larger than this (or perhaps this is for observed falls with recovered meteorites only?). Also most experts would suggest that the probability of a Chelyabinsk event would not be as often as every 5 years. – Robert Hawkes

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