Streaking fireball lit up the sky near Riverton…and then a thunderous boom

WYOMING – If eyewitness reports are correct, somewhere outside of Riverton a smoldering space rock waits to be discovered.

Several reports of either a thunderous boom, or lights in the sky, or both, began flooding in to police stations and media outlets soon after 5:40am on Saturday, December 1.

Riverton-based news source County 10 collected several reports on Facebook in the hours after.

“I was going to work this morning about 5:40am and the sky lite up through the fog. Scared me but looked like a falling star!” posted Cindy Keele.

Lauri Shoopman also felt the impact. “I heard it, it shook my walls and rattled the windows. It lasted for only a few seconds then nothing. I live up by rendezvous school in Riverton,” she wrote.

“I thought it was an earthquake with the way my windows rattled. Scary either way,” posted Kerry Whiteplume.

The most descriptive eyewitness report came from Topher C’Hair Sr. who said he was traveling in a car with his brother at the time.

“For like 4 maybe 5 seconds the sky was like a light blue,” he posted. “I looked out the window and seen what looked like a falling star down towards arapaho direction. Sounds crazy but I know what I saw.”

Most of the sightings (or hearings) came in from the west side of Riverton, out toward Arapahoe, Ethete, and Ft. Washakie. One woman said her husband felt a tremor as far west as Dubois.

The timing given in the reports has been consistent. Many recording the time of the sound and shaking at 5:36am. That would correspond with a pending observation made by Will R on a website managed by the American Meteor Society. The 3/5 expert contributor reported a white streaking object visible in the sky for about 1.5 seconds.

“Large thundering report 2 to 3 minutes afterward,” Will R added under the “Sound Observation” section of the report. That would collaborate the 5:36am timing reported by most.

A similar report of a white object in the sky thought to be a meteor was also recorded by a AMS user in the Denver area at 5:30am.

Could it have been an earthquake? Short answer: no. USGS Earthquake reports for December 1 show nothing in the Riverton area. Though a 2.7M quake did hit southeast of Lander at 9:15pm last night.

Sonic boom? Doubtful. US Air Force activity in this area has greatly reduced in the past few years. Most old-timers know what a sonic boom sounds like and agree this was bigger.

A similar meteor sighting was reported in March 2015 by Colorado residents as far south as Denver, and Wyomites as far north as Riverton. The event was described by most as a strange ‘bright green’ fireball.

As more information becomes available, Buckrail will be following up on the story. For now, educated guesses are pointing toward a bolide meteor.

Cody-based astronomer Dewey Vanderhoff once categorized a similar event on September 26, 2015 as a bolide meteor.

“A bolide is merely a meteor that explodes, very brightly. If conditions are right and the meteor was relatively close, you can hear the sound of the explosion some minutes later. Meteors like this are usually travelling anywhere from 10,000 t0 50,000 mph. They flare then disintegrate many miles above ground,” Vanderhoff told County10 at the time.

Vanderoff added that bolides are not rare, although any meteor of any size that makes it all the way to the ground is rare. It is estimated that 150 tons of meteoroids enter the Earth’s atmosphere every day. Most of that is the size of grains of sand or smaller.

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