12 Feb 2015

Meteor sends flashing lights across NZ skies

8:51 am on 12 February 2015

A meteor seen across large parts of New Zealand probably exploded well off the New Zealand coast, an Auckland astronomer says.

A sonic boom and a flash of blue light in the skies about 10pm were reported from the top of the South Island to the tip of the North Island.

People in Coromandel, Northland, and across Auckland contacted Radio New Zealand saying they had seen a bright light and heard a loud noise like a thunderclap.

Nikki from Tauranga said in a text she saw a huge blue- white ball with sparks at the back. "Lit up the whole sky! Best I can describe it!! Amazing!"

Josh Sherborne posted dashcam video he said was taken on the way into Tauranga.

An astronomer at Auckland's Stardome Observatory, Grant Christie, said the meteor seemed to have appeared near Gisborne, then headed north near Whakatane and up to the east of Auckland.

"I think this has got the hallmarks of a pretty decent-sized rock, probably something in the order of a metre to two metres across," he said.

The meteor would have exploded at about 20 kilometres above the earth.

"A lot of people say it landed in the valley next to them, or it looked close - but that's an illusion really.

The thing's moving along, entering the atmosphere probably about 20 to 30 kilometres per second ... much faster than speeds people have any familiarity with.

"What looks like just above the hills near them is way,way beyond that, probably hundreds of kilometres away."

Mr Christie said meteors were rare over New Zealand. "The last one that was well documented was probably the one in 1999 over southern Taranaki."

'Vibrations like thunder'

North Shore resident Jon Torgersen said the first light was yellowish followed a few minutes later by a reddish flaming light.

He said about 15 minutes later, at about 10pm, there was another very bright light followed by a loud sound.

And Ben Jameson of Patumahoe near Franklin said in a text: "There was a bright flash at about 10.02pm bright as lightning like a spot light or flash on the house to the north east. A sonic boom overhead rattled the house at 10.07pm - surprisingly minutes between events."

Gerard of Kumeu saw a large flash in western sky about 10pm "Thought it was lightning but no thunder & it's a clear night."

David in Thames heard a large bang and felt vibrations which sounded like thunder but without the storm , while in Wellington it was simply seen as a bright flash, like lightning.

Auckland Civil Defence has tweeted to say that while they were not experts, it is likely to have been a meteor. They later clarified the map was of lightning strikes over New Zealand, and the lines were not a meteor streak but usually associated with radio communications.