New Zealanders in the North Island have reported rumbling, crackling noises, a fireball and a huge flash of light across the sky on Thursday afternoon, which scientists believe is likely a meteor.
Local media and social media were inundated with reports and inquiries about the sight, with some witnesses describing rumbling, popping, a crackling in their ears, hair standing on end, windows rattling, or a streak of light or an explosion of light followed by a trail of smoke.
Geonet seismologists picked up a suspected sound wave from the object, and Metservice weather scientists believe they picked up the object — or its smoke plume — on radar.
Plumber Curtis Powell captured the phenomenon on his dashcam while driving north of Shannon at 1:39 p.m. Thursday.
“We were driving to a job in Shannon when I saw a blue line fall in the sky, then a massive bright light,” he said. “I realized my dash cam was recording the video and downloaded the video – a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.”
On social media, people shared photos and shared stories of their sightings. “I’m so glad someone caught it… I thought I was hallucinating,” said one commenter.
Many people mistook the rumbling for an earthquake.
“We thought it was an earthquake but it didn’t sound right, more like a big heavy truck going bang but there were no trucks near our house at the time. The house also vibrated slightly,” said one Twitter user.
dr Duncan Steel, a Wellington-based space scientist who has worked for Nasa, said the object is likely a chunk of meteor — and seeing one during the day is a rare experience.
“I have only seen one daytime meteor in my life. They are due to macrometeoroids in the atmosphere arriving very quickly, typically at 30 km per second. To be seen during the day it would have to be quite large, about the size of a rugby ball or larger – they rarely do that,” he said.
Some eyewitnesses described hearing a crackle as the object moved through the sky, which Steel said was likely “electrophonic sound.” Allan Gilmore of Canterbury University’s Mt John Observatory said in a radio interview that meteors and the electrical charge they carry could make some people’s hair stand on end.
“People with frizzy hair often hear it, while people without frizzy hair don’t,” Gilmore said.
dr Ian Griffin, the director of the Otago Museum, urged the public to keep any photos or videos. “We could maybe use them to triangulate the position of the thing and where it landed — if it landed,” he said.
“It can be pretty scientifically important to find meteorites, which are pretty rare in this country, so actually getting one would be pretty cool.”