Small asteroid disintegrates over Cuba in daylight

A blue sky, with a smoke trail, among clouds.
The daylight meteor seen in Cuba on February 1 left a long smoke trail. Image via Hatzel Vela

Several meteorites have been found in western Cuba after a huge meteor was seen by many – in broad daylight – on Friday, February 1, 2019. People in southern Florida also saw the meteor, as well as observers in the Florida Keys, and from Viñales, a town in Pinar del Río, Cuba.

The event occurred at around 1:16 – 1:17 p.m. EST on Friday, February 1, 2019. Residents of Viñales, Cuba saw a very long smoke trail that lasted more than one minute, while the meteor itself was described as extremely bright, with a yellow-orange color, and lasted more than at least four seconds.

Update (Feb. 12, 2019): Although a preliminary trajectory from northeast to southwest was calculated based on sightings reports by witnesses, a team of astronomers of the Institute of Physics of the University of Antioquia, led by Jorge I. Zuluaga, reconstructed the trajectory. An analysis of a few videos of the meteor shows the space rock’s trajectory was from south-southwest of Cuba to north, ending just north of Viñales, Cuba. This means the meteor was really bright, enough to be seen from some areas in Florida.

Several Cuban residents reported finding black rocks showing the characteristic fusion crust seen in ordinary chondrite meteorites.

A lumpy black rock with small white patches, against a lighter background.
One of several stony meteorites found in Cuba on February 1, 2019, shortly after the huge meteor was seen across the skies. Image via Hatzel Vela.

Astronomers estimate that the space rock that disintegrated over Cuba was at least a few meters in diameter – likely, van-sized – before entering Earth’s atmosphere. That’s a lot smaller than the house-sized asteroid that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia – also in February- in 2013. The shock wave from the Chelyabinsk event broke windows in six Russian cities and sent some 1,500 people to seek medical treatment, mostly from flying glass.

One of the witnesses of the Cuba meteor was Juan Alberto Pérez Pozo, who, immediately after seeing the amazing meteor, started recording the smoke trail and was able to capture the huge sonic boom at 0:46 on this video:

Meteorological satellites also recorded the event:

The bright yellow-orange color seen in the meteor suggests the space rock probably contained sodium. A similar composition was also seen in the Chelyabinsk meteorites, which were later recovered in a lake.

Reports indicate the sonic boom of the Cuba meteor also shattered windows, much as the Chelyabinsk meteor did; however, the Cuba event was at a smaller scale.

A web cam in Fort Myers, Florida, captured the meteor as it was descending towards Cuba:

Here’s another view of the meteor’s flash, seen from a satellite:

Other small asteroids passed very close to Earth in the past few weeks, including asteroid 2019 BZ3,  a 23-foot  (7-meter) space rock that came at just 0.1 or 10 percent of the Earth-moon distance, on January 27, 2019.

Good-sized meteors do strike Earth’s atmosphere frequently. Fortunately, Earth’s atmosphere causes most of these space rocks to disintegrate. According to astronomers who study asteroids, Earth is in no imminent danger of collision with any large, dangerous asteroid.

Bottom line: A small space rock exploded in midair over Cuba, and pieces of it (meteorites) have been found.

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February 2, 2019

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Eddie Irizarry

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