Space rock proves an atmospheric fireball


WAS IT a rocket? Or was it a plane? No. Apparently it was a meteorite that lit up sections of the sky last evening.

Astronomy Ireland said it was inundated with reports of a fireball in the sky from about 6pm, and that it believed a space rock had crashed into the earth’s atmosphere with the force of a small atomic bomb and exploded before falling over Ireland.

Met Éireann said it spotted a burning object in the sky at about 6pm, while Fire and Ambulance Control said it received calls from people in Co Westmeath who believed an aircraft was crashing.

A spokesman for the Irish Coast Guard said reports had come in to its stations at Malin Head, Valentia, Mullingar, Dublin and Ballybunion.

David Moore of Astronomy Ireland said there was an excellent chance the rock had landed inland, but that it would be very hard to pinpoint it. “This was probably seen by thousands of people,” he said. “If they contact us and tell us where they saw it, we will be able to triangulate their positions and find it within a couple of days.”

The meteorite could have been the size of a football or a house, but it was hard to estimate at such an early stage, he said. The Earth rotates around the sun at a speed of about 70,000mph, he added, meaning the collision between it and a space rock would be very intense. “It would be travelling 100 times faster than a bullet.”

Scores of people contacted radio shows last night to relate what they saw. One caller to Today FM’s The Last Wordsaid they saw a ball of fire resembling a helicopter, another said it was as if a gas cylinder had exploded.

The last time a similar sighting occurred over Ireland was in 1999.