With meteor now believed unlikely, flash and boom in Bemidji remains a mystery
The sound was loud enough to rattle windows, shake houses and set car alarms off — but its source is unclear, despite a 50-mile range of reports.
BEMIDJI — It wasn’t a meteor hitting Earth’s atmosphere, and there isn’t a meteorite lying somewhere in a field outside of town.
That’s what Beltrami County officials are saying Tuesday, Nov. 14, after first speculating a bright flash and thundering explosion heard in Bemidji and beyond the night before might have been from outer space. But what was it, actually? The sound was loud enough to rattle windows, shake houses and set car alarms off.
“This has certainly been an interesting puzzle to try and solve, and we still don’t know exactly what it was,” stated Christopher Muller, Beltrami County emergency management director and public information officer, in a news release.
“The fact this was seen and heard across such a large area is what is a mystery. What was it?”Christopher Muller, Beltrami County emergency management director
Just after 6:40 p.m. Monday, the sheriff’s office received numerous calls about the explosion, with people reporting they saw it over an area spanning 50 miles. This included southern Beltrami County.
Initially, law enforcement checked the area — including power transformers and substations — and didn’t find anything, the sheriff’s office said.
A resident in the Nymore neighborhood captured the flash and boom on a security camera. With the widespread reports across the region, assumptions were made by law enforcement officials that it was possibly a meteor and the video shared with the public.
Sheriff Jason Riggs said Monday night there weren’t any indications of damage.
"If something were to happen where this would have been an explosion, we would have gotten some calls and kind of been directed toward a specific area," Riggs said. "So I think — and you know, there's no telling — but the fact that it was heard in multiple locations with no clear, pinpoint accuracy leads me to believe it was probably higher in the sky."
Tuesday morning, additional video from the Bemidji Regional Airport showed an object appearing to streak across the video frame. This video was provided to an astronomer and a scientist from NASA. They analyzed the video frame by frame and determined the object was too horizontal to indicate a meteor. Additional data needed to be collected to further eliminate other possible interfering objects. It is undetermined if the two videos are related.
Duluth News Tribune’s “Astro” Bob King has been looking into the phenomenon in Bemidji Monday evening, and stated with certainty the object in the video from the airport was not extraterrestrial.
“It’s almost certainly a bug,” he said.
“If you look at it, it is moving so fast. To move that fast, it has to be close to the camera. The weather has warmed up around here, we have moths and stuff flying around again in Duluth,” King said.
Through additional conversation, reviewing the initial video and applying mathematics to the timing of the flash and boom, the sheriff’s office said it was calculated that the source of the flash and boom were less than a mile apart. Whether the source was stationary or mobile is also undetermined, but numerous witnesses reported seeing it over an area of approximately 50 miles and hearing the boom even a greater distance away.
“We appreciate the assistance we’ve received from federal agencies and science community in ruling out what it wasn’t and will continue to provide any subsequent information that is learned,” Muller stated. “The fact this was seen and heard across such a large area is what is a mystery. What was it?”
Professor Emeritus Calvin Alexander has more than 50 years of experience in this field, after years of research at the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus in the Earth and Environmental Sciences department. In a phone interview, Alexander said when meteors impact the Earth’s atmosphere, the time between the flash and the boom is much longer than the few seconds reported in Bemidji.
“If you count the time between the flash and the loud noise, it’s about three seconds,” said Alexander, explaining sound travels at 1,100 feet per second, or 1 mile in five seconds.
“Assuming that the flash and the explosion sound are the same event, that event was only less than a mile away. When meteors explode in the air, they often create sonic booms and loud noises that you can hear, but that usually occurs when they’re still several miles above the surface of the earth. If this were a meteorite explosion, it got awfully close to the ground before it exploded.”
There have been no reports of any damage or objects identified on the ground.
Alexander speculated many black rocks found in Minnesota might be mistaken for meteorites. In his five decades of fielding several hundred calls a year from enthusiasts, only four were actually proven to be meteorites.
“I'm guessing that everybody who sees a strange looking black rock, that maybe a magnet sticks to it, within a couple of miles of Bemidji is going to think they found a piece of it,” Alexander said. “There’s a whole bunch of iron rich magnetic black rocks scattered all over the countryside in Minnesota,” especially near Minnesota’s Iron Range, he added.
With the source of the flash and boom still a mystery, the sheriff’s office said it might always be.
“Unless there is significant development or definitive determination there will be no further updates,” according to the news release.