NASA estimates metrics of exploding meteor that shook ground

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA - MAY 20: Workers freshen up the paint on the NASA logo on the Vehicle Assembly Building before the arrival of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The astronauts are scheduled to arrive today for the May 27th flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. They will be the first people since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 to be launched into space from the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Joe Raedle, 2020 Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – A meteor that caused an earthshaking boom over suburban Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day exploded in the atmosphere with an energy blast equivalent to an estimated 30 tons (27,216 kilograms) of TNT, officials said.

NASA's Meteor Watch social media site said late Sunday a “reasonable assumption” of the speed of the meteor at about 45,000 mph (72,420 kph) would allow a “ballpark” estimate of its size as about a yard in diameter with a mass close to half a ton (454 kilograms).

If not for the cloudy weather, NASA said, it would have been easily visible in the daytime sky — maybe about 100 times the brightness of the full moon.

A nearby infrasound station registered the blast wave from the meteor as it broke apart, enabling the estimates.

National Weather Service meteorologist Shannon Hefferan told the Tribune-Review that satellite data recorded a flash over Washington County shortly before 11:30 a.m. Saturday and officials believed it was due to a meteor “falling through the atmosphere.” Hefferan said a similar event occurred Sept. 17 in Hardy County, West Virginia.

Residents in South Hills and other areas reported hearing a loud noise and feeling their homes shaking and rattling. Allegheny County officials said they had confirmed that there was no seismic activity and no thunder and lightning.