Fireball seen in sky across Minnesota was meteorite

  • Article by: TOM FORD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2007 - 9:46 PM

The blazing orange and yellow fireball that Minnesotans reported seeing flash through Wednesday afternoon's clear blue sky was probably a meteor.

And State Patrol officials are confident that the potential meteor did not transmogrify into a wood pallet that caused a minor disruption to drivers in Rogers. "It fell off a vehicle," patrol spokesman Mark Peterson said of the pallet, which was soon removed from Interstate 94 near Highway 101.

Somehow, early reports connected the highway debris to the natural firework show. Not "unless aliens are using pallets to drop on us," Peterson said with a laugh.

Though sightings were reported from southwestern Minnesota to western Wisconsin around after 2 p.m., it's unlikely that there could be any definitive ruling that the object was a meteor, experts said.

"There are a couple hundred tons of stuff that fall on the Earth every day," said Bob Gehrz, who heads the university's Astronomy Department.

Because there are so many meteors regularly breaking into the atmosphere -- often unnoticed given that some are the size of grains of sand -- the activity is not comprehensively tracked, Gehrz said.

While people have discovered remnants of meteorites that struck the region centuries to millenniums ago, university physics Prof. Bob Pepin said he is not aware of anyone who's seen one land in the area.

If the object was indeed a meteor, given how bright it appeared in the middle of the day, it probably was at least the size of a pea, Gehrz said.

Those who saw the object included a man in Chanhassen who was looking out his dentistÂ’s window, a downtown Minneapolis law firm employee who followed the object until it was obscured by a nearby skyscraper and an oil refinery worker in Rosemount who had a hard time convincing his co-workers that he saw what he saw.

It's possible the meteor disintegrated above a field a mile or so west of Hudson, according to DJ Vail of St. Paul. After a visit to her St. Croix River-side home, she was driving back into Minnesota along Interstate 94 after 2 p.m. when she spotted the fireball , she said. As it fell closer to the ground near a highway rest stop, it suddenly flamed out. Her sighting lasted just seconds.

Since she had already driven by the exit to the rest stop, she decided not to get off the road to explore further, she said.

"Nobody's going to believe me," she also recalled thinking.

tford@startribune.com • 612-673-4921

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