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'What The Heck Was That?': St. Louis Reacts To Monday Night's Meteor Shower Fireball

Monday night's meteor is also called a "bolide," or an extremely bright meteor.

Did you see the bright flash last night? Many home security cameras in the St. Louis area sure did

The annual Taurid meteor shower, known to burn more brightly than other meteor events, hit its peak on Monday night. Area residents blasted social media with doorbell camera videos and firsthand accounts about the noise it made.

The American Meteor Society received more than 120 reports about the sighting, from Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and other Midwestern and Western states. 

A very small object traveling very fast through the atmosphere caused the stunning display, said Will Snyder, manager of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium at the St. Louis Science Center. 

“We’re talking really tiny pieces of rock or debris, maybe even as small as a piece of dust, that burn up and get super heated in the Earth’s atmosphere as we move through space,” said Snyder, who spoke Tuesday on St. Louis On The Air.

The meteor last night is also called a “bolide,” or an extremely bright meteor. 

Many residents near O’Fallon, Missouri, reported hearing a loud boom just before 9 p.m. O’Fallon resident Karen Schootman said she and her husband thought it sounded like an earthquake or natural gas explosion. 

“It was so weird,” she said. “We looked at each other and thought, ‘What the heck was that?’”

That sound was likely a sonic boom, which occurs when an object travels faster than the speed of sound — 767 miles per hour. Many meteors exceed that velocity, Snyder said.

“An average meteor that comes through our atmosphere can be traveling thousands of miles per hour,” he said, “leading to breaking the sound barrier and those big booms that people heard.”

It’s not likely that the meteor last night made a significant impact on Earth, Snyder added. The meteor would need to be much bigger to make a crater. 

Missouri residents who missed the show Monday night will have another chance to see a meteor shower next week. The Alpha Monocerotids are expected to light up the night sky on Thursday, Nov. 21, around 10:30 p.m.

Hear Will Snyder talking with Sarah Fenske on St. Louis on the Air:

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.