The huge fireball that dropped meteorite fragments over Cuba on February 1, 2019, was captured in images from a commercial aircraft. Cruz María Ruiz was aboard Spirit flight 923 travelling from Orlando, Florida, to San Jose, Costa Rica, and was taking pictures of the beautiful views through her window when she unknowingly (until later) photographed the meteor. Cruz María Ruiz told EarthSky:
I took the images with my cellphone, but I didn’t see the meteor at that moment. Then I was reviewing my pictures and saw the fireball and its trail, and after hearing the news about the event, I realized I got the same meteor with my cell’s camera.
The time at which the images were taken match perfectly, she added. The flight’s path shows it flew very close to the meteor’s trajectory, and the photographed trail shows some characteristics that confirm it is the same smoke trail seen from Cuba.
Cruz María Ruiz, who is from Arecibo, Puerto Rico, said that after seeing the pictures she had taken, she was a little worried about the possibility of a meteor striking an aircraft. And indeed – although there are no documented incidents of a space rock hitting an aircraft, and although the probabilities are very low – it’s not impossible.
In fact, a few cars have been impacted by meteorites, and the roofs of some houses have been hit by small space rocks.
Bottom line: At around 1:16 – 1:17 p.m. EST on February 1, 2019, a small asteroid, thought to be about the size of a van, disintegrated over Viñales, a town in Pinar del Río, Cuba. Several meteorites were found after the huge meteor was seen in broad daylight. Many photographed the meteor and resulting smoke trail from the ground. Cruz María Ruiz of Arecibo, Puerto Rico caught them from an airplane.
Eddie Irizarry of the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe (Astronomical Society of the Caribbean) has been a NASA Solar System Ambassador since 2004. He loves public outreach and has published multiple astronomy articles for EarthSky, as well as for newspapers in Puerto Rico. He has also offered dozens of conferences related to asteroids and comets at the Arecibo Observatory.
Asteroid 33012EddieIrizarry, a 7.8 km space rock, has been named in his honor.