No answers - just theories - after sonic boom rattles Gainesville
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 5:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 5:21 p.m.
A sonic boom shook windows and walls across Alachua, Marion and other North Central Florida counties Thursday night, sparking speculation among residents about what could have caused it.
The regional boom followed news reports this month of similar booms being felt in such places as Massachusetts, South Carolina, southern Illinois and California.
Commenters on www.gainesville.com, a few of whom mistook Thursday night's boom for thunder, offered explanations that ranged from alien invasion to North Korea military exercises to cross-dimensional travel.
Another possibility raised by commenters was that the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane, which launched in December on a classified mission, might have landed near Cape Canaveral.
Others suggested it might have been a meteor.
The American Meteor Society's website received 20 reports of a fireball over Florida. However, it listed this as occurring after 10 p.m. Thursday, while the Alachua County Sheriff's Office received resident reports of the sonic boom around 9 p.m.
The University of Florida Department of Astronomy didn't note any meteors or similar phenomena Thursday night that could have caused the boom, a faculty member said.
But Raymond Russo, an associate professor of geology at the University of Florida, said the boom likely was caused by a military-grade jet breaking the sound barrier.
"A lot of people will mistake it for thunder," he said.
When a plane goes faster than the speed of sound, it breaks the sound barrier and can cause a sonic boom. A shock wave occurs at the front of the jet when it breaks the barrier, spreading out like a cone from the plane.
The higher up a plane is at the time, the wider the cone would be and the farther the sonic boom would carry — possibly accounting for why it was heard across several counties, Russo said.
Military jets can routinely break the sound barrier.
"That would be the most likely scenario," he said.
The official explanation, as told to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, is that the cause was "military maneuvering of some kind."
Alachua County Sheriff's Lt. Art Forgey said late Thursday night that the "west side of Gainesville flooded our communications center" around 9 p.m. with calls about a window-clattering and wall-shaking boom felt by many residents, particularly those in west Gainesville.
"We've been in contact with the State Warning Point, and ‘military maneuvering' " was the extent of the explanation, Forgey said. The State Warning Point is a clearinghouse staffed 24/7 to serve as Florida's primary point of contact for coordination in times of emergency.
Forgey did say several counties reported experiencing a similar sonic boom but that he was not aware of which counties were reporting such an incident.