The science behind meteor sighting

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(CNN) – A sonic boom and a bright streak in the sky Sunday night led to water cooler chatter Monday in Wisconsin.

Meteors fall to earth very often, but the one that burned through the atmosphere Sunday was notable for its large size. It’s that fireball in the sky over northeast Wisconsin – caught on security cameras and police dashcams – that has everyone talking today.

And while what was captured in the sky early this morning was very rare, meteorites flashing through the sky are actually quite common.

Barlow Planetarium Director Alan Peche says, “On any given moment, if you go outside at night and just stare up into the sky, you’re going to see six meteors per hour. Whether there’s a meteor shower or not. If there’s a meteor shower it will be increased, but on average, we’re going to see these little streaks of light going across the sky.”

Those little streaks are the equivalent of about the size of grain of salt. NASA experts tell us, the meteor last night probably started out about the size of a minivan. But as it fell toward earth and burned up, it was closer to the size of a lunch box when it landed – in Lake Michigan.

NASA Scientist Dr. Marc Fries says, “By the looks of the radar, there’s hundreds of meteorites sitting on the bottom Lake Michigan right now. We know the exact location from the weather radar. The falling meteorites show up on four different radars in NOAA’s nexrad National Weather Radar System.”

Weather radar – which captured the meteor as it fell – coupled with all of the footage of the event, will be used by NASA and others to research what happened.

And if the pieces of the meteor – which are upwards of four and a half billion years old – are collected from the bottom of Lake Michigan, they can help researchers understand more of the composition and history of the solar system.

Dr. Fries says, “From the scientific perspective they’re extremely valuable.”Copyright 2017 CNN

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