PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- NASA says that a strange light seen in the sky early Thursday morning light was likely an asteroid.
Based on numerous eyewitness accounts, a small asteroid estimated at 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter – with a mass in the tens of tons and a kinetic energy of approximately 10 kilotons – entered Earth’s atmosphere above Arizona just before 4 a.m. local (MST) time. NASA estimates that the asteroid was moving at about 40,200 miles per hour (64,700 kilometers per hour).
Eyewitness reports placed the object at an altitude of 57 miles above the Tonto National Forest east of the town of Payson, moving almost due south. It was last seen at an altitude of 22 miles above that same forest.
The Department of Game and Fish on the Apache Indian Reservation believes pieces of the meteorite are on their land north of Tucson.
They tell us specific areas near the Salt River are being patrolled, adding if anyone comes on and tries to search, they’ll be cited.
Pieces of meteorite can sell for around $300 per gram, meaning one pound of the meteorite could be worth $1,000,000.
NASA says the 10-foot meteor had a mass of tens of tons.
“There are no reports of any damage or injuries—just a lot of light and few sonic booms,” said Bill Cooke in NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “If Doppler radar is any indication, there are almost certainly meteorites scattered on the ground north of Tucson.”
The NASA Meteoroid Environments Office (MEO) monitors the small rock (meteoroid) environment near Earth in order to assess the risks posed to spacecraft by these bits of tiny space debris. As part of this effort, it operates a network of meteor cameras within the U.S. that are capable of detecting meteors brighter than the planet Jupiter. Three of these cameras are in southern Arizona.
Cooke notes that he and other meteor experts are having difficulty obtaining data on the June 2 fireball from meteor camera videos, since many of the cameras were almost completely saturated by the bright event.
Scientists at Arizona State University's Center of Meteorite Studies were also intrigued by the fireball. You can see what they had to say by clicking here.
A witness said the strange light lit up the front of her house and she "heard a loud roaring and then it was gone."
A security worker said he noticed a "fireball" that lit up the sky.
Other residents reported hearing a bang or loud boom.
Video footage shows the skies going from dark to instantly bright, and then growing even brighter. A loud boom accompanied the light.