By Caitlin O’Kane
Texas (AP) – A mysterious object that crashed into Texas last week has been identified as a meteorite, and some of its fragments have been located. NASA experts believe the object weighed a whopping 1,000 pounds, as much as a grand piano, as it hurtled toward Earth last week, before breaking into pieces and landing near McAllen, Texas, in the southern part of the state near its border with Mexico.
The meteor traveled at about 27,000 miles per hour, according to NASA Meteor Watch, which posted about the meteorite on Facebook. The angle and speed at which it entered the atmosphere and weather radar imagery helped NASA determine the object was likely a meteorite.
On Feb. 15, several law enforcement agencies near McAllen said they received calls from residents who heard what sounded like an explosion after 5 p.m. Houston Air Traffic Control received two reports from aircraft about a meteorite west of the city, Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said federal agencies told him.
Photos and videos taken in the area showing what appeared to be a meteor streak through the sky were shared on Twitter and other home security videos show the Earth shake and a loud boom when the meteor apparently landed.
American Meteor Society, which collects and publishes information about meteor sightings in the U.S., shared an image of the meteorite after it landed in Texas. The organization said three different meteorites hit Earth in three days, in Texas, France and Italy.
NOAA’s weather radar recorded falling debris from the meteorite, which gave people on the ground a clue about where its fragments landed. A fragment was found by planetary science researcher Robert Ward on private property near El Sauz, Texas on Feb. 18, according to the meteor society.
Meteoroids are objects in space – often referred to as “space rocks.” When they enter Earth’s atmosphere, they are called meteors, or more commonly known as “shooting stars” or “fireballs.” Meteorites not only enter Earth’s atmosphere, but they hit the ground.
Meteorites often break into fragments as they head toward Earth and it appears this one did so at an altitude of 21 miles. The meteoroid was about two feet in diameter, NASA estimates.
NASA said the meteorite doesn’t appear to have caused any damage. But it did have the power of about 8 tons of TNT.
Meteorites like this are often taken in by the Smithsonian Institution and other institutions, and anyone who finds what they believe is a fragment of this meteorite should contact the Smithsonian, NASA said.
About once a year, an asteroid the size of a car enters Earth’s atmosphere, but typically burns up before reaching the surface, creating an impressive fireball that streaks through the sky, NASA says. Rocks from space smaller than 82 feet will likely burn up in the atmosphere and won’t cause damage to Earth.
More than 100 tons of dust and sand-sized particles are estimated to enter Earth from space daily. About every 2,000 years a meteor, the size of a football field hits Earth, causing significant damage.
Photo: American Meteor Society says Robert Ward, who is from Prescott, Arizona, found the first meteorite fragment from this meteor. It was found on private property in El Sauz, Texas on Feb. 18, 2023. / Credit: Robert Ward via American Meteor Society