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NASA Says Half-Ton Meteor Exploded Over Major US City

(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

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Ailan Evans Associate Editor
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NASA said Monday that a half-ton meteor exploded early New Year’s Day over Pittsburgh, causing mysterious loud noises and vibrations that shook the city.

“The loud explosion heard over SW PA earlier may have been a meteor explosion,” the U.S. National Weather Service tweeted Saturday, posting an image showing a flash of light it claimed was “not associated with lightning.”

“No confirmation, but this is the most likely explanation at this time,” the agency said. (RELATED: Island Hit With ‘Lava Tsunami’ As Volcano Sparks Evacuations)

NASA later confirmed in a Facebook post that the blast was caused by a meteor exploding in the atmosphere. The agency estimated the meteor’s mass at half a ton, and it said the blast was equivalent to detonating 30 tons of TNT.

“Had it not been cloudy, the fireball would have been easily visible in the daylight sky – crude estimate indicates about 100 times the brightness of the Full Moon,” NASA wrote.

Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, officials said Saturday that they received numerous 911 calls reporting loud booms and shaking buildings.

“We have confirmed that there was no seismic activity and no thunder/lightning,” the officials said.

Several Weather Service scientists told The New York Times that the most likely explanation for the noises and vibrations was that a meteor exploded in the atmosphere above Pittsburgh and was vaporized.

“Our guess was potentially a meteor,” Weather Service meteorologist Jenna Lake told the NYT, adding that it is the “only thing besides aircraft incidents that would have been known occurrences and could have caused that type of sound.”

Pittsburgh-based meteorologist Chris Leonardi told the NYT that he believed the meteor either “exploded or vaporized” as it approached the Earth’s surface.

Weather Service meteorologist Shannon Hefferan told TribLive she believed the explosion “happened while falling through the atmosphere.” Hefferan said a similar event occurred in September 2021 in Hardy County, West Virginia.

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