PAGASA astronomer mulls possibility of meteorite strike in Cavite

Published May 1, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Hanah Tabios

The chief astronomer of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is not dismissing the possibility that a fire that occurred in a barangay in Maragondon, Cavite last Sunday was caused by the April Lyrid meteor shower.

The peak of Lyrids meteor shower captured streaking across the sky early morning of April 22, Friday. (Photo by: NASA Solar System Exploration/MANILA BULLETIN)
The peak of Lyrid meteor shower captured streaking across the sky early morning of April 22, Friday. (Photo by: NASA Solar System Exploration/MANILA BULLETIN)

Mario Raymundo, the chief of DOST-PAGASA’s Astronomical Observation and Time Service Unit, told the Manila Bulletin that there might be a correlation between the meteor shower and the incident in Maragondon town which resident Calyn Holeman Asuncion posted about on social media last April 26.

The post went viral over the week, and social media users have been sharing the photos of the mysterious fire online as it was considered an unusual phenomenon.

Asuncion wrote on Facebook that a huge tree situated a few meters away from their home ignited after a loud blast and later collapsed.

Raymundo said based on the photos, the manner how the tree burned was unusual. However, he said he could not elaborate further nor he can  gather any evidence as they were unable to check the area due to the ongoing enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“I have seen the photos. It could be part of the Lyrid meteor showers which started on April 14, 2020, and lasted on April 30, 2020. It’s peak is on April 22 to 23, 2020,” he said.

The seasoned astronomer also emphasized that if, indeed, the flame that struck the tree came from the meteors, there should be remnants recovered around the area to support the claim.

Common pieces of evidence found on the ground after a meteorite strike include a crater or the recovered nucleus of a meteorite.

The Manila Bulletin tried to get statements from Asuncion and the Cavite police, but to no avail.

“The other theory [is that] possibly, [it is] a meteor which is sporadic in nature, granting that it is [a] meteor in nature,” Raymundo said.

Meteor showers

According to the American Meteor Society, a nonprofit organization based in the United States, “sporadic” means the number of random meteors that can be seen in the night sky.

By order of occurrence, there are 10 major meteor showers, namely: Quadrantids (January 3-4), April Lyrids (April 21-22), Eta Aquarids (May 4-5), Delta Aquarids (July 28-29), Perseids (August 12-13), Orionids (October 21-22), Taurids (November 3-13), Leonids (November 16-17), Geminids (December 13-14), and Ursids (December 21-22).

Of these events, the organization said the low-rate showers, such as the Taurids and April Lyrids, will produce only about 10 to 15 meteors per hour at their peak under good conditions.

Raymundo also added that the world is bombarded by thousands of meteors everyday, ranging from sizes as tiny as a pebble to as large as a car.

“But most of them disintegrate in the atmosphere. Normally, the bigger ones survive and their nucleus hit the ground. The event in Cavite could be that, but we have to countercheck the veracity of the report first,” he said.

The Lyrids

The National Aerospace and Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said the Lyrids are one of the oldest known meteor showers, first sighted back in 687 BC by the Chinese.

Though not as fast as the August Perseids, NASA said Lyrids are known for their fast and bright meteors.

“Lyrids can surprise watchers with as many as 100 meteors seen per hour. They frequently leave glowing dust trains behind them as they streak through the Earth’s atmosphere. These trains can be observable for several seconds,” the space agency said.

In the previous years, sightings of these heavier showers occurred in Virginia (1803), Greece (1922), Japan (1945), and United States (1982).

Meteor-related disasters

In the recent years, the so-called Chelyabinsk event in Russia on February 2013 was considered one of the most destructive meteor strikes to hit the earth.

According to a Reuters report, a raging fireball, “traveling at a speed of 30 kilometers per second, had blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail that could be seen as far as 200 kilometers away.”

Russia’s Interior Ministry reported that 1,200 people had been injured in the meteor’s impact, mostly by glass shards from shattered establishments. Damage was estimated at $30 million.

In the Philippines, the last suspected fireball was reported in Bataan province on February 13, 2000, when several witnesses and the authorities reported a loud explosion followed by a huge glaring light.

The residents of Bagac and Balanga towns searched for possible remnants after a local official offered a reward to whoever could collect a part of the meteorite.

However, nothing was found as the meteorite was believed to have plunged into the ocean.