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Archive for Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Intense meteor shower dazzles, bewilders residents in Northeast

July 24, 2001

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People throughout the Northeast flooded emergency centers with phone calls Monday evening after seeing bright lights in the sky and hearing loud noises.

The likely cause was a meteor shower, authorities said.

Sightings were reported from Virginia to New York.

"We originally got a report of a plane crash and now it seems there were multiple meteors coming down," said supervisor Tara Dolzani of the Schuylkill County communications center in Pottsville, Pa.

In Buffalo, N.Y., National Weather Service observers received reports of a bright meteor in the western and southern regions of the state.

"We got our first call at about 6:25," meteorologist Dave Sage said. "Then the calls just started coming in."

Some people reported explosions or thunder, and said that they felt their homes shake.

In Montoursville, Pa., there was a report of a "big red ball" in the sky and broken windows from a sonic boom, a state police dispatcher said.

Alexander Wolszczan, a professor of astronomy at Pennsylvania State University, said that the thunder or shaking that people felt could have resulted from a sound wave produced by a meteor exploding in the earth's atmosphere.

Normally, a meteor shower is a silent event, he said. But large meteors can create concussive sound waves, or even hit the earth.

Often, meteors are composed of rock hundreds of feet in diameter before burning up in the atmosphere, he said.

Twenty-two-year-old James Mennig of Pottsville said he saw something as large as a sport-utility vehicle fall from the sky about 6:30 p.m.

"It looked like a plane that was totally engulfed in flames," Mennig said. He ran inside and told his mother what he saw, but she didn't believe him.

At McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, N.J., Airman Sharon Carpenter was on break around 6 p.m. in the air traffic control tower when she looked up and saw an orange streak north of the base.

In less than a second, the westbound streak was gone, seen by no other air traffic or radar controllers in the tower.

"I spent the rest of the night trying to prove to them that I wasn't going crazy," Carpenter said.

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