Huge flash in the night may have been meteor

Published: Thursday, Nov. 19 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

A probable meteor likely exploded over Utah's western desert region Wednesday night, producing a flash that briefly turned night into day over a vast portion of the West.

According to Patrick Wiggins, a NASA ambassador living in Tooele County, the intense light was most likely a bolide meteor, one that becomes a fireball and breaks up.

People in Los Angeles, Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming reported seeing the meteor.

"This was a big one; it was very bright," Wiggins said, adding that when it "blew apart," its explosion probably created the flash of bright light.

He said it is impossible to know the meteor's size, but he estimated it may have been about the size of a person's head. That contrasts with the usual meteor size of a grain of sand.

"I've seen them this size before," Wiggins said. "This one was really hauling."

It exploded at 12:07 a.m. Wednesday, lighting the sky for at least a few seconds. Such meteors usually travel about 44 miles per second (71 km/second).

Wiggins heard a rumble at his home about five minutes after the flash of light. Based on the speed of sound, he estimates the meteor may have impacted at Dugway Proving Ground, about 100 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

"That's not for certain," he stressed.

"No one has found it," Wiggins said, explaining that the area has restricted access, and it would also be almost impossible to distinguish the meteor from the many other rocks on the ground.

"There's an awful lot of land out there," he said.

It may also be more than a coincidence that the Leonids meteor shower was at its peak the previous night.

Wiggins also said light pollution in most cities means the public doesn't spot many meteors these days. However, this one dominated the sky, though Wiggins said he was surprised at how many people were up that late at night.

For more video of the meteor go to ksl.com.

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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