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Meteor Madness

YOWUSA.COM, 30-July-01
Steve Russell

The sky over New Jersey was host to several spectacular displays during July.  A culmination of unprecedented events had residents in the area talking about aliens, government conspiracies and meteors from space over their coffee breaks in the following weeks.  However, it seems the interest has been followed by false and misleading reassurances from those that know better, in order to calm and quieten the public.

A Taste Of Things To Come

coloured lights appeared in the sky over Carteret, N.J.It all started on the evening of Sunday the 15th, when 16 golden-orange coloured lights appeared in the sky over Carteret, N.J. The lights were witnessed by at least 15 people including two Police officers and a priest.  One family even managed to capture the event on video. 

Newark Airport reported no unusual flight patterns, and a National Weather Service meteorologist could not find anything in the weather that could explain the lights.  A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said there were no planned military operations that evening. 

Exactly one week later, on the evening of Sunday the 22nd, another very similar, very bright, slow moving light was seen by two children that were outside playing on a trampoline. They quickly grabbed their video camera and recorded the light as it eventually exploded like a Roman candle.

So far, none of these events have been officially explained.  As the saying goes, these things always come in threes, and this was to be no exception.  The finale to this unique show went off with a bang the following evening of Monday the 23rd.

Single Second Sensation

Inside the Pentagon, a CNN Military Affairs Correspondent glanced westward out the office window and was stunned by a fireballbright flash as a huge fireball entered our atmosphere and headed toward Earth. 

"It got brighter and brighter. Halfway up in the sky, it sort of evaporated into a bright flash", he reported. 

Several sonic booms were later heard.  The explosions violently shook houses, rattling books and dishes off their shelves. Windows were also shattered, but luckily, nobody was seriously injured.  This rapid series of events was witnessed by hundreds of people from locations such as Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and even Canada. 

Brush fires 25 to 30 miles apart in Frackville and Washington Township were reported in connection with the meteor, but were later discounted as being an unrelated event. Witnesses watching deer near Williamsport, Pennsylvania reported seeing part of the meteor fall into a nearby cornfield.  This was the only other report that indicated it had truly struck the Earth.  As CNN reported, authorities put on a happy public relations face, performed little science, and did not intend to do any real investigative work. 

CNN, July 24 2001
Meteorite leaves trail of fire, confusion

A swath of stalks with possible burn pocks was cordoned off Tuesday, as state environmental authorities combed the area with radiation detectors.

"There was an obvious patch, about 25 yards by 50, that was covered by ash and was knocked down.  The corn had bb-like holes in it and some of it was curled," said A.J. Edkin, a department safety officer, recounting the description of her colleague. 

Air quality and radiation checks turned up nothing. 

Not that they would. 

"You're not going to see any signs of radiation with a meteorite," said meteorite expert Rod Baalke. 

Local emergency personnel concluded that a meteorite had struck the cornfield.  But the state authorities said they were not inclined to pursue an investigation. 

The entire action sequence from this grand finale lasted little more than a single second, yet the fallout from panic and excitement spaned a full week.

Testing Communication Infrastructure

Only seconds after the atmospheric explosions, the telephone lines were flooded with calls. Emergency centres like 911, local and state police, fire departments, news organisations and the Internet were buzzing with reports from people that were frightened and amazed at the same time. Several pilots in mid-flight also saw the meteor and reported it to airport officials.

Based on reports from confused residents, police were ordered out to search a mountain for a crashed plane.  Meanwhile, traffic had slowed as stunned drivers rolled down their windows to discuss the situation with neighbouring vehicles.

fireballIt is important to understand just how much confusion, panic, and concern that was caused by a meteor no larger than a SUV, which did not even dint the ground, and appeared for no more than a second.

If this meteor had been only several times larger and only a few degrees in a different direction, the Pentagon and the whole of the US East Coast could have been vaporised.  In this situation, there would be no confused police looking for aeroplanes and no telephone lines to call 911 for help on.  

Many people felt they had witnessed something unique.  However, meteors like this one enter our atmosphere two or three times a month.   

What was unique about this event was the fact that it happened at precisely the right time to be in the middle of evening rush hour.  It was also precisely the right location to be witnessed by the densely populated coast of America.  In addition, it happened on a beautifully clear day.  Thankfully, this meteor can now be seen throughout the world.  By pure coincidence, an employee of Kodak managed to snap this photo at just the right moment.  It just goes to show that rare occurrences do happen. 

Missed Opportunity

This type of unique dramatic incident could have been hyped up with the help of the media to call for increased NEO detection resources.  Instead, most were dismissive of the whole issue.  While objects as small as the one witnessed cannot be detected, if it were larger we could have been caught with our collective pants down. 

Since the majority of people have never seen a meteor of this scale before, the only thing they could liken it to was movies like Armageddon.  Even the media like ABC News and the Washington Post labelled it as something right out of Hollywood.  The fact is, this is reality, and these things do happen.  It is only a matter of time before we get something we cannot handle. 

Unfortunately, the media only quote people like Dave Sage from the National Weather Service when they say, "I don't believe there's anything to be too concerned about". 

More misleading statements were also reported courtesy of CNN.  Ron Baalke, a software engineer for JPL on the NEO detection program, should know just how successful (or unsuccessful) they really are in tracking every possible large meteor threat.  Yet, he fed CNN this statement in order to calm the public. 

CNN, July 24 2001
Falling object lights up sky in eastern U.S.

Since no known asteroids were expected to pass near the Earth on Monday, whatever was responsible for Mondays sightings was probably small, he said. "We would have tracked a big one, and known it was coming".

The goal of the NEO detection program is to find and track 90% of the threatening meteors that are theorised to exist.  While progress is excellent, it is nowhere near being complete.

Is Time On Our Side?

It is clear that governments and the media are not serious about NEO detection and prevention. While we sit on our collective hands and wait for currently under funded programs to crawl towards completion, we can only pray that time is on our side.