Scientists say that hundreds of reports of a “blue flash of light followed by a loud booming sound” around Montreal and Ottawa are consistent with a possible meteorite strike.
Hundreds of people took to Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday around 8 p.m. (ET) to report the sight. And though researchers have yet to confirm it – either through sonic radar or surveillance video – they say that it was most likely a meteor.
“Hundreds, if not thousands of people are chiming in through social media, Internet forums and in comments on news media articles, saying there was this bright flash of light followed by a loud booming sound – probably a sonic boom,” Royal Astronomical Society of Canada spokesman Andrew Fazekas said.
“There were some suggestions it could be a weather-related event, like a thunderclap associated with this winter storm that went over the region, but the fact that it was felt and seen over such a large geographic area, and the description of the blue light and the sonic boom – I think it was a meteor event,” he said.
Mr. Fazekas – who said he felt a “low rumble” in his home around the time that he initially thought was an earthquake – added that no other incidents have been reported that might explain the lights and sound. “There’s been no chemical plant explosion, no fireworks plant explosion, no airplane disaster,” he said. “There’s no other event that’s been reported that coincides with that.”
Reports have come from throughout the Ottawa region, through Montreal, Laval, and as far south as upper New York state, near the city of Plattsburgh, he said. There have been no reports of damage.
Quebec provincial police said they received several calls about the event, but had not been able to pinpoint the source of the noise.
And, although a meteorite strike can often be detected by seismographs, Earthquake Canada said it had not registered any such event. The United States Geological Survey also said it had no recent reports of any quakes in the region.
At this point, Mr. Fazekas said, researchers are hoping to gather video or photos of the event in hopes of figuring out where possible meteorite fragments may have landed.
“The fact that there was a large sonic boom indicates that it was larger than average,” he said. “Most meteors we see at night are the size of a grain of sand. This was much larger – anything between the size of a La-Z Boy chair to the size of a car. The question now is, what happened to it?”
Michael Higgins, a geology professor at L’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, said that the university’s meteor observation program has yet to receive any reports, but descriptions he has heard “fits in exactly” with a meteorite strike.
“When it hits the atmosphere, it’s going incredibly fast – about 20 kilometres per second. The front of the object – the rock, as it were – has slowed down, but the back isn’t, so the pressure builds up inside and it explodes. It’s a bit like a bug hitting a wind screen in the summer. The head slowed down and the bum hasn’t, so it just goes ‘splat.’ It explodes.”
He added that Tuesday’s snowfall could have made spotting a meteorite easier – they often look like any other rock – except that it snowed all night.
Peter Brown, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario, said that he’s reviewing footage from dozens of cameras the school has across Southern Ontario, but that cloudy conditions near the one furthest east, in Kingston, will have made it difficult to detect anything.
“It sounds like this seemed to have happened further to the north, and if it is a meteorite fall, that would probably make it in a wooded area, which would make it difficult to do a recovery,” he said.
Louise Richard was driving with her son after hockey practice about 40 kilometres east of Ottawa when they saw “a huge flash of blue light in the sky.”
Ms. Richard said it was as if someone had suddenly turned the lights on in a room, then, “blink your eye,” and it was gone.
“We actually looked around for houses to see if someone had turned on their Christmas lights or something, but it was just forest around us.”
With a report from The Canadian Press