Two Chicago-area truck drivers were traveling through Arizona on their route home Thursday night when a bright light suddenly transformed the night sky.
Truck driver Mark Olhava, of Lakemoor, was traveling with fellow driver Johnny Wright, of Chicago, near Kingman, Arizona around 4 a.m. when Olhava said he woke to a bright flash of light and Wright screaming.
“It was just bright as day out there,” Olhava said.
The sight was captured on a GoPro camera the pair mounted to their vehicle months ago for insurance purposes. What they didn’t expect, was that it would capture an exploding asteroid.
According to NASA, the extremely bright fireball lit the pre-dawn sky over Arizona for a few, brief seconds, blinding meteor cameras as far away as western New Mexico.
The asteroid was estimated to be about 5 feet in diameter and entered the Earth’s atmosphere just before 4 a.m. local time. Officials estimate it traveled at about 40,200 miles per hour and got as close to 22 miles above the Tonto National Forest east of Payson.
“There are no reports of any damage or injuries—just a lot of light and few sonic booms,” Bill Cooke in NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama said in a statement. “If Doppler radar is any indication, there are almost certainly meteorites scattered on the ground north of Tucson.”
According to NASA, Cooke and other meteor experts are having difficulty obtaining data on the fireball from meteor camera videos because many of the cameras were blinded by the light.
The asteroid was the brightest fireball detected in eight years of NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network, a series of cameras aimed at observing and collecting data on fireballs, Cooke said. He noted, however, that the European Fireball Network has recorded brighter meteors.
Still, the sight was one Olhava and Wright will likely never forget.
“We see all kinds of crashes and stuff like that,” Olhava said. “Seen videos of these things in Russia and stuff like that. You never think you’re going to see one in the middle of Arizona in the middle of the night, so it was a shock.”