Michigan Meteor: Where to find debris, why we didn't know it was coming, and more

Tuesday night's meteor probably left you with a lot of questions, so we're talking to the experts.

FOX 2 spoke with Michael Narlock, head of astronomy at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, for some more information about the boom that rattled southeast Michigan.

First of all, what is a meteor?

MN: A meteor is essentially a chunk of rock. It can be metallic; it can be more like a stone. This came from our solar system more likely than not. It's a little bit different than say the meteors you would see in a meteor shower. Maybe you heard of the Perseid Meteor Shower for instance, those are roughly the size of a grain of sand. This one was probably the size of a cargo van.

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What about the rattling that came with it?

MN: It could have been a sonic boom. Much like an aircraft passing by, when it breaks the sound barrier you get that boom, and that could have rattled houses. Or it could have been the sound of the break off - the explosion that people have been reporting.

Is this something that happens randomly?

MN: Events like this do sort of just happen. For a regular meteor shower, those happen with regularity. We know when those are coming. We can predict when those are coming. This was an object that virtually came out of nowhere. We don't really have a federally funded or a government sponsored agency that tracks debris in our solar system. It's really left to a lot of amateur astronomers.

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There is case upon case of large objects whizzing by the Earth and we know it because we see it go by. We had no idea it was coming. This is probably something like that - a relatively large object that hit our atmosphere, streaked across the sky, blew up, did no real damage but certainly gave a lot of people a bit of a startle.

What was the path?

MN: I'm not 100 percent certain what the path was. It seems like it was moving west to east. I'm just piecing that together because I got random e-mails from folks in Illinois saying that they saw it and then I know folks in Michigan saw it and Ohio saw it. But I've also heard it could have been moving more north to south. So I'm not 100 percent certain.

NASA Meteor Watch posted this projected path of the meteor:

It ended here, right?

MN: All indications are that it came apart over southeastern Michigan. Certainly the epicenter of the earthquake was and in around the sort of Mount Clemens area. So obviously an event happened there. Whether it was an impact or whether that's where the seismometers picked up the sonic boom, we're not sure. Certainly the place to start looking for debris field if there is one would be in that area.

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What debris would we find?

MN: You would find probably little meteorites. We're guess it's a stony meteorite, so they wouldn't be all that magnetic. You might see a dark crust on the particular debris that you find. Probably not very large - less than the size of your fist. All meteors disintegrate in a little bit different ways. If you find something in that area and you're not sure, you can bring it by the institute and we'll take a look at it and tell you what we think.

Can you tell us how our atmosphere breaks and burns up the meteor as it comes down?

MN: It's all about friction. The meteor's coming in at a pretty good clip and it hits our atmosphere, which is like putting the brakes on. As the meteor is pushing through the atmosphere, it creates a lot of friction and therefore a lot of heat. You add speed, plus heat, plus an object that hasn't experienced either one of those in a long time and you get conditions that are ripe for an explosion.

People say they saw it, and then heard it. How does that work?

MN: Just like lightning and thunder. Light travels much, much faster than sound - so you're going to see something before you hear it. As kids we learn to count the amount of seconds that go by between when you see a flash of lightning and when you hear the thunder and that tells you how far the thunderstorm is away. This is much the same.