Fire at Auckland Warehouse Caused by Meteorite Impact? (Update)

Update (16:00 PST Dec. 14th): Eyewitness accounts are becoming more detailed, if you were in the Auckland area at 10pm (December 13th) and you saw something, please let me know (by leaving a comment below). Please give as detailed an account as possible, including your location and the direction at which you saw the meteorite. Hopefully we’ll piece this event together…

Auckland warehouse fire. Meteorite or foul play? (Paul Tonkin)

Auckland warehouse fire. Meteorite or foul play? (Paul Tonkin)

A fire erupted in an Auckland warehouse shortly after several eyewitness reported seeing a meteorite over the North Island of New Zealand. One witness (named “Mike”) even went as far to say that he watched the fiery object hit the Ponsonby area of the city, followed by an exploding noise.

The time of the several eyewitness reports (not amateur astronomer reports I want to point out) and the start of the blaze appears to correlate (although the local media is a little sketchy about the details at the moment). Apparently the fire caused serious roof damage to the warehouse and there was one minor casualty (a man who happened to be in the building at the time). However, none of the surrounding buildings were touched.

The meteorite was observed at around 10pm last night, and the fire was eventually extinguished at 11:30pm.

Before we go leaping to conclusions, blaming the property damage on cosmic pay-back, we’ll have to wait for more details. If this meteorite had so many eyewitnesses, one would hope the bright event was caught on a camera at some point. It would be nice to find out whether there was an all-sky camera or some kind of survey peering into the night sky at the time. As with the Colorado fireball last week, and the Saskatchewan fireball in November, there were no shortages of CCTV camera images, police car videos, camcorder snaps and observatory all-sky camera videos of the sky.

Although Auckland stands just as much chance of being hit by a meteorite as the rest of the world, New Zealand isn’t exactly a big target. Plus, I think the police will be having words with the guy who “just happened” to be in the building at the time. Unless he loves his job that much or he had a late project to work on…? I don’t know, but I doubt the fire investigator’s first priority will be to look for meteorite fragments.

Call me cynical, but I think “Exhibit A” will be a petrol canister and not a chunk of charred rock from outer space. Place your bets now, I’ll update this article with news as I get it.

Updates:

A New Zealand-based Astroengine.com reader followed up this article with her account of the possibility of a meteorite causing the Ponsonby fire:

I saw the meteorite from the top of Mount Eden and I have a BSc in Geology so have a good understanding of what I saw. The blinding green flash was the meteorite entering our atmosphere, it didn’t seem to break the sound barrier as it entered. It looked like it was burning out and left a vapor trail that hung for about five minutes. It was going very fast and would have been burning at about 2,000 degrees, the same as basaltic magma. To clarify, a meteorite is smaller than a metre in diameter and they are not that rare. The meteorite was travelling towards the Ponsonby area and I am not at all suprised that it caused a building to ignite. – Melissa (comment below)

This is interesting as this appears to be the most detailed eyewitness account so far, thank you Melissa for your help. Were you in Auckland at the time of the blaze? Your account could help piece together what happened. Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll credit you in this article. Thanks!

Source: NZ Herald

14 responses to “Fire at Auckland Warehouse Caused by Meteorite Impact? (Update)

  1. Pingback: Brand in warenhuis door meteorietinslag? en Astroblogs

  2. I seem to remember reading somewhere that although hot and fiery in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, meteorites are actually pretty chilly once they reach ground level – once they’ve had most of their energy scrubbed away by friction, they still have a lot of cold atmosphere to fall through. Is this correct, or am I chatting crap again?

  3. Hi, I saw the meteorite from the top of Mount Eden and I have a BSc in Geology so have a good understanding of what I saw. The blinding green flash was the meteorite entering our atmosphere, it didn’t seem to break the sound barrier as it entered. It looked like it was burning out and left a vapor trail that hung for a bout five minutes. It was going very fast and would have been burning at about 2,000 degrees, the same as basaltic magma. To clarify, a meteorite is smaller than a metre in diameter and they are not that rare. The meteorite was travelling towards the Ponsonby area and I am not at all suprised that it caused a building to ignite.

  4. We were having a late dinner in a restaurant (23 Princess Wharf) when I have seen a flash illuminating the sky back to me. When I turn back, I have seen the huge tail of the meteorite up to my head. The tail desappeared a little bit like a firework does, in about 2 seconds. I use to practice skydiving and I can tell you it was under 500m. It was flying from W-NW to E-SE and passed up to the Harbour Bridge. If the warehouse fire at Ponsonby was caused by it, it wasn’t the main part of the meteorite but it could be from a piece of it.
    Because The Geminids (meteor shower) were currently at their peak level of activity on the 13/14 of December 2008, I am sure a couple of astronomist have taken a picture/video of this events. Let’s watch the news tonight ;)
    William

  5. Im not an astrologer but my friend and i saw the meteorite too. It was about 10pm and we were sitting on a deck at the Karikari peninsula in Northland looking south over Doubtless Bay when the whole sky lit up with a massive flash. Never seen such a huge flash – we thought it must have been a huge lightening strike

  6. We were having a bbq in Morningside and the Meteorite went straight over our heads and lit up the whole sky with bit trail flash lasting for about 6-7 seconds. It was definitely heading towards the Ponsonby area, but whether it caused the fire would be debateable

  7. Hi Ben, is that Morningside in Auckland or in Northland? Just assembling an eyewitness map to see if we can pin this thing down.

    Thank you all for your contributions! Keep the details coming!

    Cheers, Ian

  8. I’m not the “Mike” they are referring too but I did see the meteor and I must say it was impressive and a privilege to witness.
    I happened to be outside in the countryside south of Auckland chatting with some freinds after a family BBQ and about 7 of us bore witness to it tearing over directly above us towards the glow of Auckland city, one amongst us is a very keen amateur astrologer but he was unfortunately the only one inside at the time and very disappointed to have missed it.

    The flash of light it produced lit up everything like a bright lighting strike, it was traveling extremely fast for an object which has made it through to the inner atmosphere with the flash from the burn lasting no longer than a decent lightning strike.
    The trail went right across the sky and though it’s very difficult to distinguish distance in the sky, especially at night it was however low enough to clearly make out the turbulence patterns inside the vapour trail as it was clearly illuminated by the near full moon and the width of the trail was a lot wider than is seen behind passenger jets, either meaning it was lower or was simply a lot bigger. (we speculated whether it was gas ionisation that caused the glow or moonlight and didn’t really come to a conclusion.)
    It did hang around for about 5 mins and then just dispersed evenly before disappearing.

    We didn’t hear anything, waited for a sonic boom but heard nothing.

    It was definitely heading in the direction of the city.
    I’ve seen bright shooting stars before, even a big one that broke into two pieces which watching the hale bop comet from the top of Mount Eden in the dusk light (did anyone else see that one?) But nothing as spectacular as Saturday night’s display.

    Kind of ironic that it happened on the same night at the Christmas in the park fireworks display, I talked to a lot of people who were at the display and witnessed the flash from the meteor but dismissed it as part of the show.
    There were probably more than 15,000 people in the park looking at the sky only minutes before, a shame it couldn’t have come a bit earlier as it would have bound to be caught on camera or video by someone filming the fireworks display, but since the even was a few minutes after the show ended people had lost interest in the sky by then.

    Mellissa who posted above would have been up mount eden watching the fireworks i imagine which meant there would have been a lot of other people who were also there who would have seen it.

  9. A large group of us were at a party in Mount Eden North, and quite a few people saw the event… although it was so quick/brief that there was much debate about what it was we all saw. The flash itself was like a massive lightning strike. No identifiable sound. I managed to look up and see a burning almost white object streak out of the sky. Hard to judge the size, but about equal to 1/25 the size of the full moon – and shaped like a slightly flattened jellybean. It was a decent sized piece of rock. It was travelling so fast (like a bullet) that it was litterally gone in a fraction on a second (hence i would be surprised if anyone had time to film it – unless there was a camera already fixed on that section of sky filming).

    I say “out of the sky” not “across the sky” because what struck me instantly was the angle of entry. The vapour trail was very clear, slightly illuminated (possibly by the moon) and left hanging until it dissipated after about 10 seconds. From where i stood the thing seemed to come almost directly from the upper atmosphere on a 75% trajectory (if 90% were vertical) and i had the sensation that it was very close to us… possibly under 1500m and heading basically NNE towards the sky tower area (although i had the feeling it was gonna hit around Bond St area). Intense.

  10. Pingback: Meteorito acaba de destruir armazem na Nova Zelândia. - Blog da Astronomia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s