New Zealanders on the North Island reported rumbling and crackling, a fireball and a huge flash of light crossing the sky on Thursday afternoon, in what scientists think was likely a meteor.
Local media and social media have been inundated with reports and questions about the sight, with some witnesses describing rumbling, banging, crackling in their ears, hair standing on end, windows rattling or streaking or explosion of light, followed by a smoke trail.
Geonet seismologists picked up a suspected sound wave from the object, and Metservice meteorologists believe they picked up the object – or its smoke trail – on radar.
Plumber Curtis Powell captured the phenomenon on his dash cam while driving north from Shannon at 1.39pm on Thursday.
“We were driving to work in Shannon when I saw a blue line falling in the sky and then a huge bright light,” he said. “I realized my dashcam was recording and uploading the video – a once in a lifetime sight.”
On social media, people shared photos and swapped stories of their sightings. “I’m so glad someone caught it… I thought I was hallucinating,” one commenter said.
A number of people have mistaken the rumble for an earthquake.
“We thought it was an earthquake, but it didn’t sound good, more like a big heavy truck, with a thump, but there were no trucks near us at the time. The house vibrated slightly too,” one Twitter user said.
Dr Duncan Steel, a Wellington-based space scientist who worked for Nasa, said the object was likely a piece of meteor – and seeing one during the day was a rare experience.
“In my life, I have only seen one daytime meteor. They are caused by macrometeoroids in the atmosphere which arrive very quickly, usually at 30 km per second. To be seen during the day it would have to be quite large, something the size of a rugby ball or more – that’s what makes them rare,” he said.
Some eyewitnesses described hearing crackling sounds as the object moved across the sky, in what Steel said was likely an “electronic sound”. Allan Gilmore of the University of Canterbury’s Mount John Observatory said in a radio interview that meteors and the electric charge that comes with them can 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, director of the Otago museum, urged members of the public to keep any photos or videos. “We might be able to use them to triangulate the position of the thing and where it landed – if it landed,” he said.
“It may be scientifically important to recover…meteorites in this country are quite rare, so getting one would be pretty cool.”