It was the boom heard around Salt Lake City on Saturday morning that had everyone from meteorologists to the governor of Utah wondering: Was it thunder or maybe an earthquake?
But within hours, National Weather Service forecasters said they had solved the mystery: it was just a meteor streaking through the air.
Thunderstorms swept through the area around 6 a.m. local time, but clear by sunrise. Around 8:30 a.m., a distinctive “boom” was heard throughout Salt Lake City, prompting people to take to social media and share footage of the noise they heard.
Some wondered if it was an earthquake. But the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, which monitor seismic activity, confirmed in a tweet that no such activity has been recorded.
Others thought it may have been a training exercise at Tooele Army Depot, a military base and storage facility near Salt Lake City. An equally strong boom in April turned out to be the army post detonating materials during planned annual drills, according to the local ABC affiliate.
Governor Spencer Cox of Utah said he heard the noise while racing and was not military related. The governor said a meteor was “probably the best theory”.
The National Weather Service then took to Twitter to say that two “reddish pixels” were detected on a geostationary Lightning Mapper, which detects lightning. However, the weather service said the pixels were not related to thunderstorms but were instead “probably the trail/flash of the meteor”.
“We now have video confirmation of the meteor heard in northern Utah, southern Idaho and elsewhere this morning,” the weather service said on Twitter.
The meteor spotting coincided with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which peaked from Thursday evening to early Friday morning. (The Sturgeon Moon has made it harder to see the shower this year.)
Mike Hankey, director of operations for the American Meteor Society, said there have been more than a dozen reports to the organization confirming sightings of fireballs.
Mr Hankey said several people had reported seeing the meteor and then a “delayed” boom, which occurs when the object “enters deep into the atmosphere”.
“If the object is large enough, it will get close enough to the surface to make that sound,” Hankey said. “It’s like a sonic boom in some cases; others may witness a blast of air or an explosion in the air.
Since the meteor registered on the lightning map, Mr Hankey said it was “significantly” bright. He added that it was possible, based on the delayed booms, that the meteor had landed on the ground.
It is not the first time in recent memory that a meteor has caused brief panic or confusion.
In January, a meteor probably exploded over Pittsburgh and created a noise similar to Salt Lake City. And in 2020, a sound like a meteor explosion was heard in Syracuse, NY, and the fiery red light was seen as far away as Baltimore and Ontario, according to The Baltimore Sun. In October last year, a boom that rocked homes in New Hampshire sparked theories that an earthquake or a plane was to blame, but the sound was likely from a meteor.