Fireball in the sky: Meteor breaks apart over western South Dakota

Early Wednesday morning, portions of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas witnessed a large fireball streaking across the sky. What was it?

RALPH, S.D. – Around 1:30 AM Wednesday morning, an falling meteor turned night into day across a large section of western South Dakota as it entered Earth’s atmosphere. Countless small meteorites and tiny pieces of space debris enter our atmosphere every day, but pieces that are large enough to push through can lead to a specific meteor event called a bolide.

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Meteor exploding over Ralph, South Dakota Wednesday morning – credit Gail Kaitfors

A bolide is a specific event that is quantified by the magnitude of brightness – which is about 2 times brighter than a full moon. Using video and eyewitness accounts from Wednesday morning, we can determine that the brightness factor met the requirements – night briefly turned into day.

The atmosphere may seem free and spacious to us, but for objects like meteorites travelling up to 40 miles per second… it can act like a brick wall.

Ever done a belly flop into a pool of water? It hurts. Objects traveling at high speeds – compounded by a given surface area, will meet stiff resistance to relatively stationary molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere…. or your backyard pool.

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The pieces falling to earth after the explosion – credit Gail Kaitfors

We can see in this second picture that the meteorite has broken apart and quickly starts to burn out. It’s hard to say what the exact size of this particular would have been, but speculation based on its brightness would suggest anywhere from 1 foot to 15 feet in diameter… so about a basketball to a car.

We could also argue that the compositions of the meteorite, not necessarily the size could influence the overall brightness factor.

Regardless, if you saw this event, you’re in a small community of people that can claim to have witnessed such an event. Bolide events of this magnitude generally happen somewhere on planet earth about once a year… large size bolide events are seen less and less frequently.

Considering this could have happened anywhere on earth, we got pretty lucky 🙂

Thanks so much to Gail Kaitfors for sharing her video!


Categories: Local News, Weather Daily