Streaks of light shooting across the night sky can many times be explained as meteors. But reports of a very large one spotted in southeast Nebraska last week have left some questioning whether it could be related to the 3.5 magnitude earthquake felt just a few seconds before.
If you're in a very dark location, away from big cities or other light sources, you can see about seven meteors per hour, much more than you might think. But not all of them are very bright, which is why University of Nebraska State Museum Planetarium Coordinator Jack Dunn says the large meteor spotted nearby last week was probably a fireball, and as far as being related to the earthquake, just a coincidence.
"What appears from the different reports that have come in was that there was very bright fireball, which is a very bright meteor," said Dunn.
Witnesses described it as a bright streak of light, seen just after a minor earthquake shook southeastern Nebraska last Wednesday (December 16). It might sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but Dunn says the earthquake and the meteor sightings happening so close to one another was probably just a coincidence.
"The meteor sightings happened after the earthquake, so if it had been before, then you could say well maybe it was related, but happening afterwards, probably not," Dunn said.
In fact, Dunn says meteor sightings are really common in Nebraska because of the dark skies; also common is finding meteorites.
"It's more common that we find them sometimes in Nebraska because we till the soil... And of course you'd be plowing along and hit one of these things, you're gonna find out about it," Dunn said.
The largest meteorite specimen at UNL's museum comes from Canyon Diablo in Arizona. It's smaller than a football, but weighs about 40 pounds, and that's because of what it's made up of.
"It's very common for iron, nickel, metals like that... pretty much they're very very hard metals," said Dunn. Hard metals that break into many pieces when they hit the earth's atmosphere. Some of those pieces are larger than others, like the one from Furnas County in western Nebraska, that Dunn says is now located in a museum in New Mexico.
"It's a pretty good size, I would say about the size of a golf cart, and so that's a very famous very large one," Dunn said.
Meteorite fragments are also very valuable, so if you think you've found one, and want to confirm your treasure is in fact from space, you can contact the university's Department of Geosciences. To find out how, just click on the link below, and scroll down to the "contact info" section.
To hear more from Dunn, watch the live interviews by clicking on the video links above or learn more about the University of Nebraska State Museum's planetarium by clicking on the link below.
To read more about the famous meteorite from Furnas County, click on the link below.