By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski
HERMISTON People across Northeastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington and parts of Idaho were surprised early Tuesday morning to see a bright light outside their windows caused by a meteor falling through the sky.
Marie Baldo of Hermiston was sitting in her den around 5:30 a.m., listening to her MP3 player when she saw a "tremendous flash of light."
"My first thought was a plane explosion," Baldo said, who lives on the east side of town. "It was about where I see Horizon planes. It was a flash and then it was gone."
She felt, rather than heard, the sonic boom which accompanied the meteor because she was listening to a book on her MP3 player.
"I felt a jolt," Baldo recalled. "It was so fast, it startled you" she said of the flash of light.
Hermiston resident Gary Lovell said he saw a blue-turquoise light about 5:45 a.m. outside of the doors on his house off of W. Punkin Center Road. The light Lovell saw, however, was slow.
"That's what intrigued me, it took a long time before the light disappeared," Lovell said.
He heard a distant sonic boom, but his wife, Caroleen, who was in another part of the house at the time, heard and saw nothing.
The Hermiston Police Department fielded only three calls about the flash of light, according to Lt. Jason Edmiston.
The National Weather Service in Pendleton said it had fielded a number of calls but had little information to give out.
"People described it as looking like lightening and sounding like thunder," said Jim Smith, a meteorologist with the weather service.
Sonic booms were heard from Cascade Locks to Pendleton to Pilot Rock and the fireball was seen in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
"It only lasted about four or five seconds," said Dick Pugh, a meteor specialist with Cascadia Meteorite Lab at Portland State University. "Half the Northwest saw it."
Pugh believes the meteor came apart several times as it hurtled through the air. His best guess at this point is that the meteor came apart around the Pendleton area.
"The present best guess would be that it ran a line from Helix to Tollgate," Pugh said of the meteor's trajectory. "Maybe a hair south of it."
Pugh is hoping the meteor dropped rocks in Helix, which would be easier to locate than if there were meteorites in Tollgate due to the difficulty of the terrain. Meteor refers to the flash of light caused by the debris, not the debris itself.
The debris is called a meteoroid. Most meteoroids that enter the Earth's atmosphere are so small that they vaporize completely and never reach the planet's surface. If it does land on Earth, it is called a meteorite.
"We have a one in a 100 chance of finding it," Pugh said.
Pugh is asking anyone who saw the meteor or has found any debris, from the size of a pebble to perhaps a football, to call (503) 701-8700.
"I need to talk to someone in Walla Walla or Milton-Freewater," Pugh said.
"Everybody I've talked to, with one exception, said that it was falling west to east. I want someone from Walla Walla."
If anyone has seen a dark spot on the snow, it could be debris from the meteor. Pugh also asks that people look in their gutters or for holes in barn roofs. They just might find the small black fused pieces like glassy olives.
"We get fireballs once a month," Pugh said, "but we haven't had one that produced this much noise for 10 years."
The last meteor sighting was on Christmas Eve. Pugh says it came over Sisters and possibly landed around Ontario or Boise. Unfortunately, the visibility was poor that night so no one saw where it might have landed.
Pugh will be in Hermiston March 5 at the Hermiston Public Library to discuss meteors and other fireballs. He would like people to bring in their meteorites for him to look at.
Karen Hutchinson-Talaski can be reached at email@example.com.