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Rare falling meteor causes bright and loud explosion above Michigan

Key Points
  • The bright and loud explosion over Michigan on Tuesday was a meteor, according to USGS.
  • The event registered as a magnitude 2.0 earthquake on the Richter scale
Source: IG/@topherlaine

A bright and loud fireball in the sky over Detroit on Tuesday night was a falling meteor.

At about 8:10 p.m. ET witnesses in Michigan and several surrounding states reported hearing a loud boom and a brief blazing flash in the sky, said the American Meteor Society.

Footage from dash cams showed the blast.

The explosion registered as a magnitude 2.0 earthquake on the Richter Scale, U.S. Geological Survey said. Witnesses reported weak or light shaking in areas around where the explosion occurred, according to USGS data.

The meteor was about two yards in diameter and fell into the atmosphere at about 28,000 miles per hour, said Bill Cooke, who leads NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The flash it made is called a "super bolide," a term given to fireballs that are brighter than the moon but dimmer than the sun, Cooke said.

"Fireballs of that magnitude are pretty rare for Michigan," he said, adding that only about 10 super bolides explode above the United States in a year. The fact that this happened above the populous Detroit area is one reason the story is generating so much interest, he said.

As it burned up, the meteor probably sloughed off a spray of smaller meteorites, which are likely lying on the ground near the site.

In the wake of these events, meteor hunters collect meteorite samples and send them to NASA or other institutions that have the equipment to study the rocks.

Researchers typically run the rocks through machines that can determine what elements they contain and categorize them.

About 90 percent of meteors are "stony meteorites" made of common rock substances such as silicates, Cooke said, but a few have higher amounts of elements such as nickel and iron.

They can also determine the "cosmic ray exposure ages" of the rocks. There are tests that tell how long the rock was in space based on its level of exposure to cosmic rays.