No, not some runaway CGI from a Michael Bay giant-robot crapfest, this was a genuine fireball falling out of the sky. As in, a giant rock from outer space that ignited due to ram pressure with our atmosphere. (It’s not friction that heats a meteor and makes it glow; the real culprit is the pressure exerted by atmospheric gases piling up in front of it and creating drag!)
It all happened this past Sunday, when a hunk of stone streaked through the clear blue sky over Nevada and California before exploding over Central Valley with a force equivalent to a five-kiloton bomb! Luckily for those of us who don’t live in the Golden State, the so-called fireball was captured in a NASA photograph. (Click it for a bigger view)
If you’re wondering why it was called a fireball instead of just a plain old meteor, the International Astronomical Union defines a fireball as “a meteor brighter than any of the planets.” Since this one was clearly visible in daylight, it was a hell of a lot brighter than any planet. Astronomers also toss around the word bolide to describe an especially bright fireball or one that generates audible sounds. Or one that explodes!