A brilliant meteor streaked through the skies of southern Florida and Cuba in the early afternoon of February 1 (local time), leaving a smoky train, rattling buildings with loud sonic booms and probably peppering the village Viñales, Pinar del Río on Cuba with meteorites.


Soon after the event social media were abuzz with reports of the meteor and its lingering smoke trail in the sky. Many videos captured also the very loud sonic booms, produced by the meteor as it passed high in the atmosphere. Note in the video above the delay between the meteor and sonic booms: the smoke trail is already slowly being distorted by high altitude winds, before the sound reaches the ground. It typically takes several minutes for sonic booms to arrive. In some places the sonic booms are reported to have damaged windows. The village Viñales, Pinar del Río is reported to have been peppered by meteorites. First reports show grayish rock fragments, covered in a black crust – consistent with the expected appearance of meteorites with fusion crusts, formed during their fiery descent through the atmosphere. These reports await confirmation.


The smoke trail left by the meteor was also captured in GOES-16 satellite imagery, while the falling meteorites may have been detected by NWS Key West weather radar at about 9000 m altitude:


First reports of meteorites. Definitely look very credible (the first even shows flow marks in the fusion crust, indicating constant orientation instead of tumbling during the fiery descent). Will require confirmation:

While no preliminary data on this event is available so far, based on a general comparison with previous similar events, the incoming meteoroid (space rock) was likely about 2-4 m in diameter with a mass of about 10-100 tons. It fragmented as it blazed through the atmosphere, likely disintegrating at about 20-30 km altitude and releasing energy equivalent to the explosion of several kilotons of TNT. Only a small amount, probably only about 1-3% survived to the ground as meteorites.

An event of this size happens somewhere on Earth every several months and is not particularly rare. Impacts of this size present a minor threat due to the falling small meteorites. Larger events present a much bigger threat. On February 15, 2013 a meteoroid about 20 m in diameter disintegrated in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia in an explosion as powerful as about 500 kilotons of TNT. That is the equivalent of a large nuclear weapon! The explosion happened at about 30 km altitude and the shockwave burst numerous windows in the city, injuring over a thousand people. It was even powerful enough to collapse a factory roof. Fortunately, events of such magnitude are much more rare.

Stay tuned for more details on this event!