List of meteor air bursts
Many explosions recorded in Earth's atmosphere are likely to be caused by the air bursts that result from meteors exploding as they hit the thicker part of the atmosphere. These types of meteors are also known as fireballs or bolides with the brightest known as superbolides. Before entering Earth's atmosphere, these larger meteors were originally asteroids and comets of a few to several tens of metres in diameter, contrasting with the much smaller and much more common "shooting stars".
The most powerful recorded air burst is the 1908 Tunguska event. Extremely bright fireballs traveling across the sky are often witnessed from a distance, such as the 1947 Sikhote-Alin meteor and the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor, both in Russia. If the bolide is large enough, fragments may survive such as the Chelyabinsk meteorite. Modern developments in infrasound detection by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization and infrared Defense Support Program satellite technology have increased the likelihood of detecting airbursts.
The table from Earth Impact Effects Program (EIEP) estimates the average frequency of airbursts and their energy yield in kilotons (kt) or megatons (Mt) of TNT equivalent.
|Kinetic energy at||Airburst
|4 m (13 ft)||3 kt||0.75 kt||42.5 km (139,000 ft)||1.3|
|7 m (23 ft)||16 kt||5 kt||36.3 km (119,000 ft)||4.6|
|10 m (33 ft)||47 kt||19 kt||31.9 km (105,000 ft)||10|
|15 m (49 ft)||159 kt||82 kt||26.4 km (87,000 ft)||27|
|20 m (66 ft)||376 kt||230 kt||22.4 km (73,000 ft)||60|
|30 m (98 ft)||1.3 Mt||930 kt||16.5 km (54,000 ft)||185|
|50 m (160 ft)||5.9 Mt||5.2 Mt||8.7 km (29,000 ft)||764|
|70 m (230 ft)||16 Mt||15.2 Mt||3.6 km (12,000 ft)||1,900|
|Based on density of 2600 kg/m3, speed of 17 km/s, and an impact angle of 45°|
While airbursts undoubtedly happened prior to the 20th century, reliable reports of such are quite scanty. A possible example is the 1490 Ch'ing-yang event, which had an unknown energy yield but was reportedly powerful enough to cause 10,000 deaths. Modern researchers are sceptical about the figure, but had the Tunguska event occurred over a highly populous district, it might have caused a similar level of destruction. A study published in 2020 claimed that on 22 August 1888, a meteorite killed a man and left another paralyzed in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, as reported by the local governor to Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire.
Depending on the estimate, there were only 3–4 known airbursts in the years 1901–2000 with energy yield greater than 80 kilotons (in 1908, 1930?, 1932?, and 1963), roughly consistent with the estimate of the EIEP table. Most values for the 1930 Curuçá River event put it well below 1 megaton. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization and modern technology has improved multiple detection of airbursts with energy yield 1–2 kilotons every year within the last decade.
The first airburst of the 21st century with yield greater than 100 kilotons came from the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor, which had an estimated diameter of 20 metres.
|Height of explosion||Notes|
|1908, Jun 30||Russia: 60 kilometres (37 mi) W-NW of Vanavara near Tunguska River||15,000 kilotonnes of TNT (63,000 TJ)||8.5 km (5.3 mi)||Tunguska event (Largest witnessed meteor airburst to date)|
|1919, Nov 26||United States: southern Michigan and northern Indiana||A gigantic meteor was seen approaching from the east. A brilliant flash of light, thunder, and an earthquake lasting three minutes were reported. Damage to property over a large area as well as to telegraph, telephone and electrical systems.|
|1927, Jul 13||United States: Illinois||20 km (12 mi)||Tilden meteor. From more than a hundred miles it appeared like "a piece falling off the sun." Then it exploded.|
|1930, Aug 13||South America: Curuçá River, Brazil||100 kilotonnes of TNT (420 TJ) ?||Also known as the 1930 Curuçá River event or "Brazilian Tunguska". Hypothesised to be generated by three meteor fragments. An astrobleme of 1 km was found on the ground, but may be related to an older feature.|
|1932, Dec 8||Europe: Arroyomolinos de León, Spain||190 kilotonnes of TNT (790 TJ) ?||15.7 km (9.8 mi)||Assumed to be produced by an 18-meter object and connected to the December delta-Arietids meteor shower.|
|1941, Apr 9||Russia: Ural mountains, Katav-Ivanovo district of Chelyabinsk||ru:Катавский болид (Katavsky bolide). Residents saw a fireball flying at a high speed in the dark sky, followed by roaring like the sound of a speeding steam locomotive. Fragments were left as a result of the event.|
|1947, Feb 12||Russia: Sikhote-Alin Mountains in eastern Siberia||10 kilotonnes of TNT (42 TJ)||Sikhote-Alin bolide. The largest meteorite fall of recent times with total mass of fragments at 23 tons. A bright flash and a deafening sound were observed for 300 km. Estimated explosive yield of 10 kt equivalent.|
|1948, Feb 18||United States: Norton County, Kansas||Norton County bolide. One of the 5 largest meteorite falls of the 20th century, with more than 1 ton of fragments collected. A brilliant fireball appeared in the sky. Then there was a loud explosion as the meteor broke apart.|
|1959, Nov 24||Asia: Azerbaijan||Yardymly bolide. A bright object that illuminated the area for almost 3,000 square km before it shattered into pieces with a thunderous noise.|
|1963, Aug 3||Indian Ocean: about 1100 km west of the Prince Edward Islands||260 ± 90 kilotonnes of TNT (1,090 ± 380 TJ)||The Prince Edward Islands bolide was detected infrasonically about 1,100 km (680 mi) W-SW from the Prince Edward Islands off the coast of South Africa by a U.S. Government instrument network for detecting atmospheric explosions.|
|1965, Mar 31||Canada: Revelstoke, British Columbia||0.6 kilotonnes of TNT (2.5 TJ)||13 km (8 mi)||Revelstoke bolide. It exploded brilliantly and detonations were heard up to 130 km away. About 1 g of meteorite found. Sometimes placed in SE Canada on May 31.|
|1966, Sep 17||Canada: Lake Huron, Michigan, Ontario||0.6 kilotonnes of TNT (2.5 TJ)||13 km (8 mi)||The Kincardine fireball. A brilliant meteor illuminated the whole of SW Ontario.|
|1967, Feb 5||Canada: Vilna, Alberta||0.6 kilotonnes of TNT (2.5 TJ)||13 km (8 mi)||Vilna bolide. Photographed. Its detonation was also clearly recorded by the seismograph of the Univ. of Alberta. Two very small fragments < 1 g found and stored by the university.|
|1969, Feb 8||Mexico: Chihuahua||Allende bolide. The 3rd largest meteorite fall of the 20th century. A huge, brilliant fireball lit the sky and ground for hundreds of miles. It exploded and broke up. About 2 tons of fragments were later found.|
|1976, Mar 8||Asia: Jilin Province in China||Jilin bolide. The 2nd largest meteorite fall of the 20th century (after the Sikhote-Alin event). A fireball larger than the full moon was seen. There were several explosions then a violent breakup. It yielded a piece at 1770 kg, more than twice the Chelyabinsk meteorite (654 kg), and total fragments collected was about 4 tons.|
|1984, Apr 3||Africa: Nigeria||Gujba bolide. A bright object was witnessed then an explosion was heard. More than 100 kg of fragments were found.|
|1993, Jan 19||Europe: Lugo, Italy||10 kilotonnes of TNT (42 TJ)||30 km||Superbolide airburst caused by the breakup of a low density meteoroid traveling at approximately 26 km/s.|
|1994, Jan 18||Europe: Cando, Spain||Much less than 1 kilotonne of TNT (4.2 TJ)||Cando event. An unexplained ground explosion at 7:15 UTC. Topsoil and large trees were thrown tens of metres away. No fragments found and there are problems with the trajectory. It might not be an impact event.|
|1994, Feb 1||Pacific Ocean: near the Marshall Islands||11 kilotonnes of TNT (46 TJ)||21–34 km (13–21 mi)||Marshall Islands fireball (about 9 ± 5 meters in diameter). Two fragments exploded at 34 km and 21 km of altitude. This impact was observed by space-based sensors both in infrared (by the DOD) and visible wavelength (by the DOE).|
|1997, Oct 10||United States: Las Cruces, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas||0.3 kilotonnes of TNT (1.3 TJ)||16–24 km (10–15 mi)||An airburst detected in El Paso and Las Cruces. The fireball traveled S-SE before disintegrating 10–15 miles above the surface with a loud explosion, traveling around 30,000 MPH. Luminosity is described only as "a very bright flash of light, bright orange-red, similar to a distant sunset".|
|1997, Dec 9||Europe: 150 km south of Nuuk, Greenland||0.1 kilotonnes of TNT (0.42 TJ)||25 km (16 mi)||One airburst at 46 km, three more breakups detected between 25 and 30 km. No remains found so far. Yield only based on luminosity, i.e. the total energy might have been considerably larger.|
|1998, June 20||Asia: Kunya-Urgench in Turkmenistan||Kunya-Urgench bolide. One of the 5 largest meteorite falls of the 20th century, with more than 1 ton of fragments collected. A large bolide brightened the sky, and a loud whistling then a crashing noise was heard.|
|1999, Nov 8||Europe: Northern Germany||1.5 kilotonnes of TNT (6.3 TJ)||Detected by the Deelen Infrasound Array in the Netherlands|
|2000, Jan 18||Canada: Yukon, BC||1.7 kilotonnes of TNT (7.1 TJ)||30 km||Tagish Lake bolide. One airburst at ~08:00, fragments recovered.|
|2001, Apr 23||Pacific Ocean; west of California||2–9 kilotonnes of TNT (8.4–37.7 TJ)||29 km||Infrasound detection. Meteor estimated to be 2–3 metres in diameter. Occurred 1,800 km west from the Scripps detector in San Diego.|
|2002, Jun 6||Mediterranean Sea: 230 km N-NE of Benghazi, Libya||12–26 kilotonnes of TNT (50–109 TJ)||2002 Eastern Mediterranean event|
|2002, Sep 25||Russia: Vitim River, near Bodaybo, Irkutsk Oblast||0.2–2 kilotonnes of TNT (0.84–8.37 TJ)||30 km||Vitim event or Bodaybo event|
|2003, Mar 26||United States: Park Forest, Illinois||0.5 kilotonnes of TNT (2.1 TJ)||Park Forest bolide. Residents in Illinois and neighboring states witnessed a bright meteor exploding overhead.|
|2003, Sep 27||Asia: Kendrapara in India||4.6 kilotonnes of TNT (19 TJ)||26 km (16 mi)||The Kendrapara bolide is notable as it may have caused injuries. A bright light then a loud noise that shattered windows. One part of the fireball fell in a village and may have set a hut on fire, injuring two people.|
|2004, Sep 3||Antarctic Ocean: north of Queen Maud Land||12 kilotonnes of TNT (50 TJ)||28–30 km (17–19 mi)||Asteroid 7–10 meters in diameter. Coordinates are for dust trail observed after event by NASA's Aqua satellite and LIDAR in Davis Station. Event was also observed by military satellites and infrasound stations.|
|2004, Oct 7||Indian Ocean||10–20 kilotonnes of TNT (42–84 TJ)||Infrasound detection|
|2005||Start of JPL Fireball and Bolide Reports. (Dates in yellow are not in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reports.)|
|2005, Jan 1||Africa: Libya||1.2 kilotonnes of TNT (5.0 TJ)||31.8 km (19.8 mi)||Largest for 2005.|
|2006, Apr 4||Atlantic Ocean||5 kilotonnes of TNT (21 TJ)||25 km (16 mi)|
|2006, Dec 9||Africa: Egypt||10–20 kilotonnes of TNT (42–84 TJ)||26.5 km (16.5 mi)||Infrasound detection|
|2007, Sep 28||Europe: Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland||40 km (25 mi)||Bolide that was observed as far as northern Lapland. Meteoritic material was suspected to have landed southeast of Oulu but none has been found.|
|2008, Oct 7||Africa: Nubian Desert, Sudan||1–2.1 kilotonnes of TNT (4.2–8.8 TJ)||37 km (23 mi)||2008 TC3, the first asteroid detected before impacting Earth. Fragment has been named as Almahata Sitta meteorite. In JPL as 1 kt.|
|2008, Nov 20||Canada: Saskatchewan||0.4 kilotonnes of TNT (1.7 TJ)||28.2 km (17.5 mi)||Buzzard Coulee bolide. Five times as bright as the full moon and broke apart before impact. Over 41 kg of fragments collected.|
|2009, Feb 7||Russia: Tyumen Oblast||3.5 kilotonnes of TNT (15 TJ)||40 km (25 mi)|
|2009, Oct 8||Asia: coastal region in South Sulawesi, Indonesia||31–50 kilotonnes of TNT (130–210 TJ)||25 km (16 mi)||2009 Sulawesi superbolide. No meteoritic material found (most likely fell into the ocean). Occurred ~03:00 UTC; ~11:00 local time.|
|2009, Nov 21||Africa: South Africa / Zimbabwe||18 kilotonnes of TNT (75 TJ)||38 km (24 mi)||Impacted going 32.1 km/s (19.9 mi/s). There were 56 witnesses of the bolide and two seismic recorder detections.|
|2010, July 10||Pacific Ocean: NE of New Zealand||14 kilotonnes of TNT (59 TJ)||26 km (16 mi)|
|2010, Sep 3||Pacific Ocean||3.8 kilotonnes of TNT (16 TJ)||33.3 km (20.7 mi)|
|2010, Dec 25||Pacific Ocean: east of Japan||33 kilotonnes of TNT (140 TJ)||26 km (16 mi)|
|2011, May 25||Africa: Cameroon||4.8 kilotonnes of TNT (20 TJ)||59 km (37 mi)|
|2012, Apr 22||United States: California and Nevada||4 kilotonnes of TNT (17 TJ)||30–47 km ||Sutter's Mill meteorite. Numerous fragments from object recovered. (Not in JPL reports.)|
|2013, Jan 25||Canada: Quebec||6.9 kilotonnes of TNT (29 TJ)||–|
|2013, Feb 15||Russia: near Chelyabinsk||500 kilotonnes of TNT (2,100 TJ) ||Estimated 30–50 km ||Chelyabinsk meteor, about ~20 meters in diameter. Largest meteor airburst known since Tunguska in 1908. More than a ton of fragments found, one large piece called the Chelyabinsk meteorite.|
|2013, Apr 21||South America: Argentina||2.5 kilotonnes of TNT (10 TJ)||40.7 km (25.3 mi)||The bolide was captured on video at a Los Tekis rock concert.|
|2013, Apr 30||Atlantic Ocean: SW of the Azores||10 kilotonnes of TNT (42 TJ)||21.2 km (13.2 mi)||Asteroid impact at a low 12.1 km/s|
|2013, Oct 12||Atlantic Ocean||3.5 kilotonnes of TNT (15 TJ)||22 km (14 mi)|
|2013, Nov 26||Canada: heard in Montreal, Ottawa, and New York||0.10 kilotonnes of TNT (0.42 TJ)||Montreal bolide.|
|2014, Jan 8||Pacific Ocean; north of Papua New Guinea||0.11 kilotonnes of TNT (0.46 TJ)||18.7 km||Potentially interstellar originating from an unbound hyperbolic orbit based on an eccentricity of 2.4, an inclination of 10°, and a speed of 43.8 km/s when outside of the Solar System. This would make it notably faster than ʻOumuamua which was 26.3 km/s when outside the Solar System. The meteor is estimated to have been 0.9 meters in diameter.|
|2014, Feb 18||South America: Argentina||0.1 kilotonnes of TNT (0.42 TJ)||–||Even though this was a low-energy event, there were reports of windows and buildings shaking.|
|2014, Aug 23||Antarctic Ocean||7.6 kilotonnes of TNT (32 TJ)||22.2 km (13.8 mi)|
|2015, Jul 4||China||0.18 kilotonnes of TNT (0.75 TJ)||46.3 km (28.8 mi)||Head-on collision at 49 km/s (180,000 km/h). Fastest collision in the CNEOS Fireball and Bolide database.|
|2015, Sep 7||Asia: Bangkok, Thailand||3.9 kilotonnes of TNT (16 TJ)||29.3 km (18.2 mi)||The 2015 Thailand meteor daylight bolide around 08:40 local time (UTC+7). Caught on at least 9 videos of dash and helmet cams online|
|2015, Nov 13||Asia: India||0.3 kilotonnes of TNT (1.3 TJ)||28.0 km (17.4 mi)||Komar Gaon bolide. A daylight meteor accompanied by almost a minute of sonic booms.|
|2015, Dec 12||Asia: eastern Turkey||0.13 kilotonnes of TNT (0.54 TJ)||39.8 km (24.7 mi)||Sariçiçek meteorite. A bright fireball was seen and then heard as it exploded over a Turkish village. More than 15 kg of fragments were found and villagers made an est. $300,000 selling the space rocks.|
|2016, Feb 6||Atlantic Ocean: NW of Tristan da Cunha island||13 kilotonnes of TNT (54 TJ)||31 km (19 mi)||Largest fireball for 2016.|
|2016, May 17||United States: NE coast||Many eyewitnesses, and some heard a sonic boom.|
|2017, Nov 16||Europe: Inari, Finland||20–91 km||A meteoroid weighing a few hundred kg exploded in an airburst and dropped tens of kg of meteorites into a remote area of Finnish Lapland. The resulting shockwave was felt on the surface. The event was detected by 7 infrasound stations.|
|2017, Dec 15||Russia: Kamchatka||6.4 kilotonnes of TNT (27 TJ)||20 km (12 mi)||The asteroid likely had a diameter of 2–5 meters prior to impact. But because it happened in a remote area in Kamchatka, there were likely no eyewitnesses. The event was detected at 11 CTBTO infrasound stations.|
|2018, Jan 22||Atlantic Ocean: off Senegal's coast||0.11 kilotonnes of TNT (0.46 TJ)||Not related to ATLAS detected object A106fgF that had an impact track well south of Senegal.|
|2018, Jun 21||Russia: Kursk Oblast||2.8 kilotonnes of TNT (12 TJ)||27.2 km (16.9 mi)||Loud sonic booms were reported as well as fragments found.|
|2018, Dec 18||Bering Sea, near Kamchatka, Russia||173 kilotonnes of TNT (720 TJ)||25.6 km (15.9 mi)||Kamchatka superbolide asteroid (~10 meters in diameter) impacting at a fast 32 km/s. Largest airburst since Chelyabinsk.|
|2019, Feb 18||Africa: Zambia||4.2 kilotonnes of TNT (18 TJ)||26 km (16 mi)|
|2019, June 22||Caribbean Sea||6 kilotonnes of TNT (25 TJ)||25 km (16 mi)||2019 MO (~3 meters in diameter) seen by ATLAS 12 hours before impact.|
|2020, December 22||Qinghai province, China||9.5 kilotonnes of TNT (40 TJ)||35.5 km (22.1 mi)||Asteroid (~8 meters in diameter) impacting at a relatively slow 13.6 km/s. Largest known impact since 2018 December 18.|
Note: For sorting purposes, location is given in "general:specific" format. For example, "Europe: Spain". This table contains a chronological list of events with a large yield at least 3 kilotons since 2005, with earlier or smaller events included if widely covered in the media.
Airbursts per year
As of January 2020, the number of airbursts each year since 2005, as reported in the JPL Fireball and Bolide Reports are:
- 1972 Great Daylight Fireball – assumed to be still in an Earth-crossing orbit
- 2007 Carancas impact event – mostly intact until object hit the ground
- Impact event
- Asteroid impact prediction
- Meteorite fall
- List of bolides
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- Revelstoke at LPI
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- Vilna at LPI
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- Allende at LPI
- Meteorite Recon entry on Jilin, A Preliminary Survey Of The Kirin Meteorite Shower, Academia Sinica, October 1976.
- Jilin at LPI
- Gujba at LPI
- The spectacular airburst over (Lugo) Italy on January 19, 1993
- J.A. Docobo, R.E. Spalding, Z. Ceplecha, F. Diaz-Fierros, V. Tamazian, Y. Onda, "Investigation of a bright flying object over northwest Spain, 1994 January 18", Meteoritics & Planetary Science, Vol. 33.
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- July 2002 Asteroid/Comet News
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- January 18, 2000 Yukon/Northern BC Fireball (The Tagish Lake Meteorite)
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- Meteorite strikes Indian village
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- "'Super-Meteor' Lights up Northern Sky".
- Almahata Sitta in LPI
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- Buzzard Couleein LPI
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- Matthew Moore (2009).South Africa meteor display caught on film, The Telegraph
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- https://earthsky.org/space/loud-boom-and-bright-fireball-over-california-and-nevada-on-april-22 Booms and fireball over California and Nevada on April 22, 2012 caused by large asteroid
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- Bright Meteor Rocks Argentina Rock Concert
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Jaymie Matthews, professor of astrophysics at the University of British Columbia, says a meteor was likely the cause of a strange boom heard Tuesday night in Quebec and Ontario
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"[...] This has the hallmark of a meteor blast," said Andrew Fazekas, a spokesman with the Montreal Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
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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.
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- "Scientists probe meteor link to Argentina explosion". Phys.org. 2014-02-18. INERC
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- Komar Gaon at LPI
- Sariçiçek at LPI
- Thomas Seibert (2015). A Meteorite Saved My Town, Dec 12, 2015.
- Paul Rincon (2016).Large space rock burns up over Atlantic, BBC News
- https://www.amsmeteors.org/2016/05/huge-fireball-over-northeastern-us/ Huge Fireball over Northeastern US
- "Fragments of meteor up for grabs in Lapland wilderness".
- "Watch: Meteor lights up night sky as it crashes over Finland". 2017-11-18.
- Nov 16th fireball over far northern Scandinavia – W. Randy Bell
- Dec 15th #fireball over Kamchatka detected at 11 #CTBTO infrasound stations – W. Randy Bell
- https://www.imo.net/daytime-fireball-over-russia-on-june-21/ Daytime Fireball over Russia on June 21
- https://earthsky.org/space/asteroid-exploded-disintegrated-over-russia-june-21-2018 Fragments found for small asteroid that exploded over Russia
- US detects huge meteor explosion
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- Asteroid Impacts on Earth More Powerful than Nuclear Bomb (YouTube)
- Asteroid impacts larger than 1 kiloton of TNT
- New Map Shows Frequency of Small Asteroid Impacts, Provides Clues on Larger Asteroid Population (Bolide events from 1994 to 2013 for asteroids ~1+ meter in diameter)
- Fireball and Bolide Reports (JPL)
- Newspaper archives drop hints about the Chelyabinsk event and other superbolides