Near Ann Arbor, Michigan on January 16, a meteor exploded mid-air in the southwestern sky and registered as an earthquake of 2.0 magnitude. The short flash of light it produced caused some to perceive it as lightning, but Astronomers later confirmed it as a definite meteor. Many Ann Arbor residents captured the sighting on video, and naturally, social media, in turn, exploded with the news.

A gift from space to Michigan

Meteors rarely reach further than the upper atmosphere, where meteor showers are seen. UM Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, Michael Liemohn, stated that meteor showers occur when dust grains hit the tip of earth's atmosphere, or the remains of a comet tail burst through consistently.

University of Michigan Astronomy Department Chair, Edwin Bergin, explained his enthusiasm for meteors: "They carry inside them the history of where we came from - the conditions that existed before the birth of planets. That's really, really exciting."

Uncommon circumstances

But Liemohn also said that space events like this happen over Michigan dozens of times per year. So what makes this sighting so incredible? He further explained that this event might have happened at any time of the day or night, but the rarity lies in the fact that the fireball exploded over an area with many onlookers present. Meteors are often smaller and reside in the upper atmosphere, sometimes resulting in a small flash.

The conditions were just right on the night of the January 16, however, that the Michigan meteor appeared brilliantly noticeable.

Such an event may seem extraordinary to us, but Bergin barely raised an eyebrow. He explained this event as "unordinary." Given the size of the earth and the percentage of it that's covered by ocean, he says that events like this aren't rare, they're just rarely seen. Liemohn called it a "bolide," space lingo for a meteor that actually penetrates the lower atmosphere. He also explained that the air must be dense enough for the meteor to appear as a large fireball and eventually explode.

Bergin elaborates that meteors sometimes reach a point of pressure which results in an explosion into very small pieces. So meteors aren't uncommon, meteors that register on the Richter scale and are so clearly visible to a highly populated area are uncommon, which makes this fireball a rarely seen natural event.

This causes us to wonder, what other seemingly ordinary events happen regularly in our universe without our knowledge?