The meteor that lit up the sky in Australia last week had the calculated impact energy of 1.6 kilotons of explosive power.
A Powerful Explosion
The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies in California recently released new data about the massive fireball that passed over the south coast of Australia on May 21. The NASA research center records the impact time, location, and amount of energy generated by the meteors that enter the Earth's atmosphere.
Phil Bland, a professor from Curtin University, commented that the energy deposited by the meteor into the atmosphere was "very high."
"It's in the range of a small nuclear weapon," he told Adelaide Now. "Because it exploded at an altitude of 31.5 kilometers it didn't do any damage."
To put things into perspective, the nuclear bomb that went off in Hiroshima during World War II had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons. The meteor had the force of about 10 percent of Hiroshima.
Meteor Broke Into Smaller Pieces As It Enters The Atmosphere
Scientists estimated that, prior to entering Earth, the meteor was about the size of a small car or a big couch. However, due to high pressure, it broke down into smaller pieces.
"What the folks there along the coast of South Australia saw was a spectacular light show, probably a very loud sonic boom that would rattle the windows, this wasn't big enough to break windows I expect," explained Steve Chesley, a NASA aerospace engineer, in an interview with ABC Radio, "and then just small pebbles falling to the Earth and not at hypersonic velocities, they slow down very quickly."
However, according to David Finlay, who runs the Facebook page Australia Meteor Report, the fragments would have been dangerous if it landed in a populated area. Albeit small, the debris from the impact can still leave holes in roofs and cars.
Luckily, however, the pieces that survived fell in the Great Australian Bight off the coast of South Australia.
The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the California Institute of Technology also monitors the objects around Earth, including meteors, and the possibility of an impact with the planet. U.S. government sensors have been monitoring the occurrences of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors, around the world for the past 30 years. They combined the data in a map showing all reported fireball events from April 15, 1988, to May 22, 2019.