A meteor reportedly struck Earth last month, exploding with 2.1 kilotons of force without any word to the public. That is, until a watchdog scientist took to Twitter.
Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted on the evening of August 1 that a “Meteor explode[d] with 2.1 kilotons force 43 km above missile early warning radar at Thule Air Base.”
“We’re still here, so they correctly concluded it was not a Russian first strike. There are nearly 2,000 nukes on alert, ready to launch,” he continues.
The information was apparently shared as a retweet from Twitter user “Rocket Ron”, a “Space Explorer at [NASA's] Jet Propulsion Laboratory” using the handle @RonBaalke. Baalke reports the fireball was first detected on July 25, traveling at 24.4 kilometers (15 miles) per second and burning up about 43 kilometers (27 miles) above the US early missile warning radar at Thule Air Base in Greenland on July 25, 2018.
IFLScience contacted the US Air Force, who said they have not released an official report regarding the incident at the time of publication, but confirmed there were no impacts to the air base. IFLScience is currently awaiting a response from NASA. Kristensen says it’s concerning that the US government hasn’t made a public comment regarding the incident, especially considering that the main mission of the military base is to “provide missile warning operations” while dealing “with the general space control."
“Had [the meteor] entered at a more perpendicular angle, it would have struck the earth with significantly greater force,” he wrote in an article on Business Insider.
Thousands of meteors enter the Earth’s atmosphere every year. Most are small enough that they go unnoticed, but NASA has recorded bigger fireballs known as bolides since 1988. Most of these happen over oceans or remote locations where there isn’t anyone around to see them. As Kristensen notes, there are exceptions, and these exceptions make informing and warning the public imperative. Take the Chelyabinsk meteor, for example. In February 2013, a house-sized asteroid entered the atmosphere at 17.7 kilometers (11 miles) per second, exploding 22.5 kilometers (14 miles) above the ground in a blinding flash and loud sonic boom. Estimated at 440 kilotons of TNT, the blast blew out windows over 518 square kilometers (200 square miles), damaging buildings and injuring more than 1,600 people.
It’s no Space Force, but NASA has been monitoring these events for some time. The Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program works to find, deflect, and prepare for impact mitigation. Meanwhile, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) ensures early detection of potentially hazardous objects like asteroids and comets, whose orbits bring them within around 8 million kilometers (5 million miles) of Earth.