Equivalent to 1,800 metric tons of TNT: What we now know about the meteor that lit up the daytime sky above New Zealand

Meteorites hit New Zealand three or four times a year, but the fireball that shot across the sky above Cook Strait last week was unusual.

It had the explosive power of 1,800 metric tons of TNT and was captured from space by U.S. satellites. It set off a sonic boom heard throughout the southern parts of the North Island.

Witnesses described a “giant bright orange fireball” and a flash that left a “trail of smoke that hung around for a few minutes”.

The fireball was most likely caused by a small meteor, up to a few meters in diameter, traversing Earth’s atmosphere. It was one of only five impacts of greater than a thousand tons of energy globally in the past year. Most meteors are tiny, creating “shooting stars” that only briefly skim the atmosphere.

The fragmentation of the meteor produced a shock wave strong enough to be picked up by GeoNet, a network of earthquake seismometers, with a…

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