DON’T LOOK UP Washington County

We watched the new NetFlix movie “Don’t Look Up” on New Years Eve, the night before returning from our holiday trip New Years Day. While catching up on neighborhood events in our absence, a neighbor asked, “Did you hear we had space aliens in Washington County while you were gone?”
Turns out there was a flash and a powerful boom — one many people thought was an earthquake — since it shook their houses so hard. Most people didn’t see a flash, since the skies were overcast at the time, but a flash was recorded by the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, Pa. where indicated on their map below:
They seem to think it was an exploding meteor:
The USGS didn’t record any earthquakes in our region recently, but there was a 2.1 earthquake around that same spot on May 11, 2017 (blue dot on USGS map below) and covered in my blog, PENNSYLVANIA’S GRAND FRACKING EXPERIMENT.”
There has also been ongoing longwall mining, closer to the Pa-WV state line, that has disrupted traffic on Interstate 70 with the resulting subsidence.
There is one huge cryogenic gas plant in that same general area that comes to mind, and they have had a series of events over past years, with one requiring the evacuation of local residents on Christmas Eve. The Houston, Pennsylvania Gas Plant and Rail Yard as seen in these aerial photos below:

Washington County (Pennsylvania), December 13, 2018: Explosion and fire at MarkWest Energy natural gas processing plant in Houston, PA.  One worker fatality, with three other employees life-flighted to hospitals.  (No evacuation of residents.)

Then of course there have been major pipeline explosions. The Revolution pipeline carries gas liquids from Butler County south to the Revolution Gas Plant in Washington County, Pa:
More than likely, a major explosion from one of those facilities, would have left an obvious trail of destruction. So let’s look at some of the news reports and interesting tweets about this event:

“A statement from Allegheny County said that 911 had received reports of a loud boom, which — according to users on Twitter who described the boom — happened around 11:30 a.m.”

Julian Routh / Post Gazette / Jan 1, 2022 8:25 PM
Asteroid or Meteor: What’s the Difference?
An asteroid is a small rocky object that orbits the Sun. Asteroids are smaller than a planet, but they are larger than the pebble-size objects we call meteoroids. A meteor is what happens when a small piece of an asteroid or comet, called a meteoroid, burns up upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. Comets orbit the Sun, like asteroids. But comets are made of ice and dust—not rock. Source

“Satellite images taken by the weather service’s Geostationary Lightning Mapper at 11:20 a.m. Saturday show signs of lightning over Washington County that does not appear to be connected to any actual lightning activity that occurred in that area on that day and time. But reports from folks who heard a boom or felt trembles — whether it was an explosion, or the sonic boom of something traveling so fast into the atmosphere — came from all over southwestern Pennsylvania and even parts of Ohio and West Virginia. Tom Reiland, a retired senior astronomer at Allegheny Observatory, said to hear a sonic boom of that magnitude, a large meteor or very small asteroid would have to be in the Earth’s atmosphere moving faster than the speed of sound — about 760 mph.”

Tim Grant / Post Gazette / Jan 2, 2022 4:42 PM

“In 2015, a 500-pound meteor streaked through the sky above western Pennsylvania, triggering a sonic boom, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. More recently, in October, a boom shook homes in New Hampshire, giving rise to theories that an earthquake or an aircraft was to blame. (Satellite imagery, however, suggested a meteor exploded in the atmosphere above the state.)”

Azi Paybarah / The New York Times / Jan 3, 2022 7:49 AM

DART Video:

MORE: NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the world’s first full-scale mission to test technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards.

“A nearby infrasound station registered the blast wave from the meteor as it broke apart; the data enabled an estimate of the energy at 30 tons of TNT. If we make a reasonable assumption as to the meteor’s speed (45,000 miles per hour), we can ballpark the object’s size at about a yard in diameter, with a mass close to half a ton (1,000-pounds). Had it not been cloudy, the fireball would have been easily visible in the daylight sky – crude estimate indicates about 100-times the brightness of the Full Moon.”

NASA Meteor Watch / Jan 3, 2022 8:00 AM

Image: GOES-16 weather satellite ( NOAA/NASA)
Scientists at Western University in London, Ontario examined data from an infrasound station in Pennsylvania that captured the sound wave, helping NASA glean more information about the fireball, estimating the meteor was travelling 72,420 kilometres per hour.

“The way we know this is a meteor is that it was moving directly north to south. All the data points were in a straight line, and lightning does not behave that way. Only meteors behave that way.”

William J. Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office

(Updated Jan 4, 2022)


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