2012-04-19 / Front Page

Explosions over the Sierra today caused by meteor shower

The sound of a powerful explosion punctuated the calm over a wide area of the Sierra Nevada in Northern California about 8:30 a.m. today, the apparent result of an ongoing meteor shower left by the annual Earth fly-by of Comet Thatcher.

Craig Shoemaker, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said the Lyrid meteor shower - the debris cloud left by the comet as it makes its annual pass -- is capable of producing fireballs and sonic booms when it enters the atmosphere, "similar as a plane would make" when it crosses the sound barrier.

The Lyrid meteor shower is at its peak today and Monday, Shoemaker said.

Georgann Wilmot, a resident who lives on a mountain ridge east of Sutter Creek, told The Bee she heard a "tremendous explosion" that seemed protracted about 8:30 a.m.

"It went on for a while," she said. "We heard one big one and then there other rumblings" and that persisted, reminiscent of thunder.

"At first I thought maybe it was an earthquake," she said.

A dispatcher for the Placer County Sheriff's Department said calls came in from Tehama County to Kern County.

Shoemaker of the weather service said he estimated that the comet in its fly-by was more than 50 million kilometers from Earth. The closest on-record pass by Comet Thatcher, he said, was about 50 million kilometers in 1861. That's the year the comet was discovered by A.E. Thatcher.

The meteorologist said meteors tend to burn up as they enter the atmosphere.

According to the Web site, www.space.com, the comet's full name is C/1861 G1 Thatcher. The Lyrid meteor shower is named for the constellation Lyra because the meteors appear to emanate from that part of the sky. The shower is most visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

 

 

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