Meteor Explosion Surprises Pacific Island Nation of Niue

Italian astrophotographer Lorenzo Lovato photographed this spectacular fireball from the 1998 Leonid meteor shower on Nov. 17, 1998.
Italian astrophotographer Lorenzo Lovato photographed this spectacular fireball from the 1998 Leonid meteor shower on Nov. 17, 1998. (Image credit: Lorenzo Lovato)

A meteor that exploded over the Pacific Ocean last week gave a late-night shock to the residents of the small island nation of Niue, according to press reports.

Niue police officials say the exploding meteor created a huge bang over the island, waking up some of the 1,200 people who call Niue home, the Agence-France Presse reported.

Officials with New Zealand's Carter Observatory said the bang was most likely a fireball from a meteor exploding about 12 1/2 miles (25 km) above Niue.

One potential source of the fireball is the Perseid meteor shower, which is currently underway and is expected to peak on Aug. 13, though the bright full moon may outshine the "shooting star" display.

AFP reported that the bang occurred Wednesday night (Aug. 3), though Radio New Zealand stated that the event occurred on Tuesday evening (Aug. 2).

Mark Chenery, chief of Niue's police force, told Radio New Zealand that there were no reports of damage, though he initially thought that a boat had exploded at the Niue wharf. Radio New Zealand reported that the bang actually occurred Tuesday night (Aug. 2).

"There was a large, a huge clap of thunder but it was its normal starry night outside," Chenery told Radio New Zealand. "People have described seeing a white light, like a flare, shooting across the sky … it was certainly heard island-wide."

Meteor explosions and fireballs are caused when a space rock enters Earth's atmosphere, but does not reach the ground to become a meteorite. While most meteors burn up and disintegrate, some can explode to create dazzlingly loud fireballs.

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