Breaking: Mexican meteorite impact?

By Phil Plait | February 11, 2010 10:46 am

Artist drawing of an asteroid entering Earth's atmosphereThere have been some reports of a possible meteorite in Mexico — here is one news report translated into English.

[UPDATE (16:00 Mountain Time): A new article is saying this may be a piece of space junk, specifically the remains of a Russian Cosmos 2421 satellite, re-entering. The reports of a crater may be wrong; I heard from someone who knows a reporter in the area (I know, this is uncredited and FOAF so take it with a grain of salt) that no crater has been found. Bear in mind the early report of a crater was totally without any citations at all; no picture, no witnesses, no names, nothing. So it’s looking now that it was a bright fireball from space junk, but no actual impact — but we don’t have definitive answers yet. Again, I’ll report more as I find it out.]

Reports are a bit sketchy right now, but apparently a bright flaming object was seen coming down about 100 miles northeast of Mexico City on Wednesday around 18:30 local time. There was a roar that was loud enough to shake buildings. Another news article is reporting a crater 30 meters in diameter was found.

At the moment this is all I know. It’s not clear if this was actually an impact event from a meteorite or some terrestrial event. In 2007 a small meteorite struck in Peru, causing a lot of confusion (with me at least!) over the source of the event; there was a lot of speculation before an actual meteorite impact was confirmed. Before that impact, it was not considered likely that a small meteorite could actually hit the ground fast enough to make a crater in the ten-meter size range (they slow down or break up high in the atmosphere), so the Peru event was a surprise. It’s still not completely understood how the meteoroid survived to hit the ground.

So it’s possible this Mexico event is a meteorite, but we don’t know yet. I’ll post more information as I find it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, DeathfromtheSkies!
MORE ABOUT: impact, meteorite, Mexico

Comments (57)

  1. Robert E

    that would be a pretty large crater if it is
    thankfully, the news reports say there were no injuries (but a bridge collapse)

  2. Well, of course we don’t know much for sure based on these reports. It could be a meteorite or it could have been a piece of space junk or a part of an aircraft, or it could have been an explosion of a natural gas pipeline or something like that (would not be the first time something like that caused confusion)

    If there is any truth to this there should be some data verifiable from seismographs and possibly other things like radar and such.

  3. So how big would a meteorite have to be to make a 30 meter crater (assuming it won’t disintegrate in the atmosphere)? I expect it would be really, really tiny. Some book I read about death raining down from the skies has got me interested in fun stuff like this.

  4. Steve Williams

    Someone smarter than me can test this (perhaps at this site:, but playing with the calculator yields a possible size of 1 meter in diameter, if it was an iron meteor.

  5. I want one of these to hit back in my woods. (Provided it IS a meteorite.)
    They have all the luck!

  6. Wesley Struebing

    Waiting with bated breath for more news. Though in thinking of the size of the meteorite that might have created it, I seem to recall speculation that the one which created Meteor Crater in Arizona (Barringer Crater?) wasn’t all that large (something like 50 meters, or so?).

  7. The Other Ian


    If the 10-m Peru crater was caused by a 1-m rock, and if the area of the crater is proportional to the mass of the meteoroid (I’m not claiming it is; that just seems reasonable) then this one would have been about 2 m. In reality it’s a lot more complicated than that, however, depending on the composition of the meteoroid and the location of impact, the angle of impact, and probably a host of other factors as well.

  8. Mike Young

    Rule of thumb for impactors is 20:1 for crater size: impactor size. So a 1-2m meteorite could do this. However that rule of thumb is based on much larger craters, where the atmosphere did little to slow the collision down. So the object in this case would need to be significantly larger if it was moving a lot slower.

  9. Adam
    The NEIC shows no quakes in that region in the last week. Just a larger quake almost 300 miles south of Mexico City.

    Unless the NEIC is filtering out non-seismic events (impacts, etc).

  10. Erasmussimo

    Skepdude asks: So how big would a meteorite have to be to make a 30 meter crater

    I happen to have a very old formula from my undergraduate days; it is a very rough approximation:

    Meteor energy for crater of diameter d = 4 x 10**6 d**3 Joules

    This yields a meteor energy of 1 x 10**11 joules. That’s a lotta joules! I just did a quick calculation of terminal velocity and this thing could not have been traveling at terminal velocity; if so, we’re talking about a mass greater than 10,000 kg — which is so big it would not decelerate much in the atmosphere. So it hit the ground moving very fast — probably in excess of 1000 m/s

  11. ND

    I’m telling you man, we’re under attack by an alien force that means us harm. So many reports like this in the past few years. All coincidence? I think not!

  12. Did it hit Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack?

  13. Thanks for the heads up. I guess this is all just to prepare us for 2012.

  14. rob

    i thought this sort of stuff was supposed to happen in 2012.

    must be the sunspots!

  15. Oli

    It’s probably one of those new sunspots falling on earth! This is our doom!

    Blah blah blah. I wish one of these fell in my backyard, so that I could have it without anyone thinking up strange conspiracy theories…

  16. Martín Pereyra

    It might be unrelated, but the same day a punch hole cloud was seen at Acatlán, Puebla, about 200 km / 125 mi south of the supposed impact site. Here is the report from a regional newspaper. (“Emborregado” means “woolly” or “sheep-like”.) The note says the cloud was seen “in the morning” but no exact time is given and I haven’t find another news report. If the cloud was caused by a meteorite, the path is in agreement with reports of a light crossing the eastern sky of Mexico City (some of these reports can be found at the comments section of the first link).

  17. Phil, I am a fan from Mexico and I am doing a quick research. Mexican scientists say that the incident has all the signs of a fallen metiorite.

    Although no hard data has been reported, Daniel Flores, a speciallist on galactic and planetary astronomy from the Astronomy Institute, says that the object had all the known signs: direction, noise, dust and light.

    On the towns where the object fell people is scared of more meteorites falling and crashing into buildings. Daniel Flores said it’s unlikely and that there is no reason for concern.

    For what I could read, I made a quick map of the place where the object might had fallen:,+hidalgo&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=39.320439,75.761719&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Tulancingo,+Hidalgo,+Mexico&ll=20.081568,-98.370724&spn=0.091253,0.147972&t=h&z=13

    Hope this helps. If I get more details I will post them.

  18. Missed Utah by that much…

  19. For those who speak Spanish, there is a video report on this site:

    They don’t show the crater or anything but they do interview some of the local authorities and give some details about the event. It seems the exact location of the impact may be a bit difficult to get to, hence the lack of photos and video thus far

  20. @Adam: Yeah, I did not see any earthquakes reported, but I’m wondering if there is any raw data on the seismology of the area over the past 24 hours. A few days ago, a natural gas power plant blew up near me and was so powerful I felt it 15 miles away – it did not show up as a seismic event on the USGS map. It was considered too small to be noted. So, just in comparison, an event can be pretty damn big locally and still considered insignificant

  21. The Director of Civil Protection of Peubla is saying they haven’t found the crater or anything really. In another story he said no bridge was taken out either.

  22. kiran

    Hello everybody. as of now it ok if people didn’t see the meteorite. can any body confirm the breaking of bridge which is also reported.its not clear at all. thanks

  23. Pat Flannery

    Last I heard, the reason the meteorite that fell in Peru left a crater despite its small size was that the impact point was so high above sea level and therefore the atmosphere didn’t slow it down as much before impact as it would at a lower elevation.

  24. Carancas’s altitude was 3,800 m (12,467 ft). Ahuazotepec is 2,216m (7,273 ft), though it’ll depend on where it fell.

  25. Adam

    @Steve: Very true… going to have to dig and see if i can find any raw seismographic data on the area. Still no news on this. You’d think there would be more for a supposed meteor impact crater of that size. I mean 100ft is nothing to sneeze at.

  26. T_U_T

    How far is this from Utah ? I mean, the meteorite was supposed to hit and destroy Utah. Not amuse Mexicans. Even apocalypse seems to be unreliable these days :)

  27. Jon Hanford

    I just KNOW this aint SDO!

  28. Adam

    Ok, closest seismograph I can find is one for the Yucatan peninsula. There are some minor tremors on there, but not at the proper times from what I can tell. So this one is probably too far away. (

  29. Martín Pereyra

    I’m so dumb. The hole punch cloud was two days before, so it’s an unrelated event. I didn’t notice the date. Sorry.

  30. The Other Ian

    Pat, do you have a citation for that? I have a hard time believing that an extra 3.8 km makes that much difference in impact velocity in a 120-km atmosphere. I understand the space shuttle is still 10-20 km up when it reaches gliding velocity, although of course that’s a controlled reentry.

  31. Space junk …

    “A fragment of the Russian satellite Cosmos 2421 was what struck between Hidalgo and Puebla, according to the scientist Fernando de la Peña with information from U.S. Defense Department”

    More info in spanish …

    Excuse my English :(

  32. Joe Meils

    Dr. Forrester: I don’t understand why a meteor that size didn’t make a bigger crater…

    Sylvia Van Buren: Oh, it struck sideways, and skidded in… at least that’s what I heard, I don’t really know…

    Dr. Forrester: Either that meteor is very light, which is unheard of, or it’s hollow somehow… I think I’ll stick around until it cools off…

  33. Another Mexican fan reporting… according to Mexican scientist Fernando de la Peña (who has been lobbying for the creation of a Mexican space agency), the object was the remains of Russian satellite Cosmos 2421. (original in Spanish) (Google translation)

    More news in, the unofficial site for AEXA, the Mexican Space Agency. (Google Translation, which translated “avistamiento” -sight- as whale).

  34. Martín Pereyra

    I was going to link to the AEXA article but Korpil came first, and I don’t know how to delete a comment, so I will say that AEXA got the data from DoD’s Space Track, if someone has an account and want to check it…

  35. Rodrigo

    FWIW, Mexico’s seismological service, which lists earthquakes with magnitude as low as 2.6, has nothing recorded for this time and date. For yesterday there’s one early in the morning (9:11) and one at about 21:47 PM and browse around. Can’t give a link into the exact events, the site seems to work entirely on JS :-/

  36. Jon Hanford

    #35. Joe Meils :

    “No one would have believed in the middle of the [21st] Century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man’s. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsypathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely joined their plans against us. Mars is more than 140 million miles from the sun, and for centuries has been in the last status of exhaustion. At night, temperatures drop far below zero even at its equator. Inhabitants of this dying planet looked across space with instruments and intelligences that which we have scarcely dreamed, searching for another world to which they could migrate. ”

    Mars looms near opposition! :)

  37. Geo

    The Mexican Space Agency is reporting similarly on the debris:

    Whoops! didn’t see Korpil’s comment! Feel free to delete this.

  38. Blob

    My calcs on the Cosmos 2421 debris (the one due to reenter on that day) do not place it anywhere near Mexico at the time given in the article.

  39. efex

    just thought I would mention that a guy I know in mexico actually saw the thing in the air, he said:

    x says: (10:57:50 PM)
    i was going in car to the studio
    x says: (10:58:00 PM)
    and at a street light,  i turn my head to the sky
    x says: (10:58:21 PM)
    and i see a crazily shining object, flying , crossing the sky at a speed that i never seen before in my life
    x says: (10:58:45 PM)
    i only saw a piece of it, between the buildings, it crossed really fast, less than a second
    x says: (10:59:11 PM)
    it was one hell of a view man
    x says: (10:59:13 PM)
    so bright
    x says: (10:59:18 PM)
    it was like a small sun
    x says: (10:59:26 PM)
    flying faster than any concorde

    anyhow, he’s a reliable guy as far as I know (though of course as far as anybody else would know I could be a total flake too! LOL) so there you go, eyewitness report

  40. Bob

    I just read a comment on some other site. Some bloke reckons he did the calculations and says this was not KOSMOS 2421?

  41. This is very unlikely to have been Kosmos 2421 debris hitting.

    The piece mentioned (#33006) was no way near passing over Mexico in a window of several hours around the time mentioned (10 Feb 6:30 pm local time = 11 Feb 00:30 UTC).

    In addition, orbital elements from tracking data are available for an epoch almost a day later suggesting it is still in orbit. I computation with Alan Pickup’s SatEvo software suggests decay near 12 Feb 9h UTC, 1.25 days later

  42. I made a map of the ground track configuration for this piece of space debris for the reported time of the event (10Feb 18:30 local time = 11 Feb 00:30 UTC). As you can see, the ground-track couldn’t be further away from Mexico!

  43. Pat Flannery

    The Other Ian asked:

    “Pat, do you have a citation for that? I have a hard time believing that an extra 3.8 km makes that much difference in impact velocity in a 120-km atmosphere. I understand the space shuttle is still 10-20 km up when it reaches gliding velocity, although of course that’s a controlled reentry.”

    “Reported details about the event, such as water boiling in the muddy crater for ten minutes from the heat of the impact, presented a problem for experts. Because the impact site is at a high altitude of more than 3,800 m (12,467 ft), the meteoroid may not have been slowed down as much as it ordinarily would have been by passage through the Earth’s denser lower atmosphere, and kinetic energy at impact may have been unusually high for a terrestrial impact of an object of this size and mass. “

  44. Carlos Marquez

    Mexico, and particularly its central plains are a highly earthquake-prone area, and since the 1985 event, the Servicio Sismológico Nacional, part of the UNAM (National University) has established a whole network of seismological stations.

    You can see here the latest events registered over the country,
    No event was recorded for the area mentioned on the date established.

    Just my 2 cents.

  45. Blob

    @Marco Langbroek

    Exactly, it could not have been the Cosmos 2421 debris.

    Therefore, it was probably a small meteor… and still worth searching for….

  46. Eeyore3061

    Anyone heard of/from US DoD on their tracking either the plasma trail a meteor would have generated or tracked a piece of space debris falling out of orbit?

    And yeah, I’ve already heard that the debris cloud that Cosmos 2471 (after ‘breaking up’ three times!) didn’t track over Mexico at the time in question. So if it was space debris, from what origin?

  47. Markle

    Whale between Hidalgo and Puebla, possible space debris. So, at least we know what it was thinking as it hit:

    Ahhh! Woooh! What’s happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my… well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a… tail! Yeah! Tail! And hey, what’s this roaring sound, whooshing past what I’m suddenly gonna call my head? Wind! Is that a good name? It’ll do. Yeah, this is really exciting. I’m dizzy with anticipation! Or is it the wind? There’s an awful lot of that now isn’t it? And what’s this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like ‘Ow’, ‘Ownge’, ‘Round’, ‘Ground’! That’s it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it’ll be friends with me? Hello Ground!

    Did anybody find a crispy bowl of petunias? 😉

  48. Jason Fish

    HEY! People are watching this event closely and carefully. There is certainly more than meets the eye. As soon as local officials are saying things like gas explosion, no meteorite, and then changing it to a fallen satellite, you know the truth is something else and very important.

    If anyone is in the area of this incident, PLEASE provide information to the rest of us. Try to find the crater if it exsts, verify what has been said or provide any relevant facts. Is the area sealed off? Are government or other “officials” controlling the area? What are the locals saying and seeing? Do they notice anything unusual since this happened?

    Anything would be greatly appreciated even if its nothing is going on, nobody cares, its like it never even happened. I doubt that this is the case, but you get the idea. Thanks in advance.

  49. Hypatia

    Just for the record, a quote from Nicholas Johnson, director of the Orbital Debris Program Office of the Johnson Space Center (Houston) and director of the Inter-Agency Space Debris
    Coordination Committee

    “The association of the event over Mexcio with a piece of Cosmos 2421 appears to be in error. No part of Cosmos 2421 reentered at the time and location reported.
    For the record, Cosmos 2421 fragmented at least three times in 2008, producing more than 500 pieces which were large enough for the US Space Surveillance Network to catalog. The vast majority of them have now already reentered. A piece of Cosmos 2421 did reenter recently, but it was well after the time of the event over Mexico.
    No known man-made object reentered the atmosphere near the time mentioned in the media reports.
    Best regards,
    Nicholas Jonson”


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