Possible Meteorites Strike Western Cuba

At 2:15PM Friday 1st February 2019, parts of Western Cuba heard a loud explosion, with rock falling from the sky over a small town called Viñales.

Viñales, Western Cuba. Image: Google Maps

As the meteor traversed the skies, it was reportedly seen across the Florida Keys, as mentioned by the U.S. National Weather Service Key West office in a tweet.

CNN’s Havana correspondent, Patrick Oppmann, described the sound of a “large explosion” in the town of Viñales and posted pictures of the fragments:

Video from the area even captured a sonic boom (at 0:46). A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created whenever an object travelling through the air travels faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding similar to an explosion or a thunderclap to the human ear.

While there were no injuries reported, when this meteor exploded, rock did fall onto property below, as meteorites shattering some windows according to locals.

This meteor and subsequent meteorite impact was also detected by the suite of instruments on board the GOES-16 (now GOES-East) satellite and several meteorologists picked up on the meteor’s detection on twitter:

Several images of the meteorites were posted onto social media by locals, most generally smaller than the average cell phone.

Efren Jaimez Salgado, head of the Environmental Geology, Geophysics and Risks department of Cuba’s Institute of Geophysics and Astronomy, told state newspaper Granma that all signs point to a meteorite and that a team had been sent to Pinar del Rio to collect and analyze samples.

Jaimez said preliminary information suggests that a meteorite or meteorite fragments struck an area near the Mural of Prehistory in Vinales.

Photos published showed small black stones which when split open had dark red veins.

People in the archbishopric of Pinar del Rio confirmed that two strong explosions were heard and in rural areas of the province rumblings were heard and some houses shuddered.

Meteorite strikes are more common than you might think. Dust-grain size meteoroids strike the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly, but they often go unnoticed. Meteoroids between a millimeter and a centimeter burn up in the atmosphere and appear to us as shooting stars. Larger strikes are less common—a one-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth once each year on average and would reach the ground as smaller debris, while a 100-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth approximately every 10,000 years, according to a Tufts University fact sheet. Meteoroids over 1 kilometer hitting Earth are catastrophic events that occur every 1 million years on average.

Infographic: What’s the Difference Between a Comet, Asteroid and Meteor? Credit: Universe Today

Meteoroids do not discriminate where they land, nor where they enter the earth’s atmosphere. Hence, it is well within the realm of possibility that events such as this could happen across Trinidad, Tobago or any of the other Caribbean islands.

But medium-size strikes can be dramatic spectacles—and in some cases, dangerous. The Chelyabinsk meteor that struck southern Russia in February 2013 blew out windows and caused indirect injuries to almost 1,500 people.

Sources: AP, Gizmodo, Twitter (See Embedded Tweets).

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