MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Friday September 12, 2014 – Just before midnight local time on Saturday, residents of Nicaragua’s capital Managua reported hearing a loud explosion and feeling a shockwave accompanied by a burning smell.
A crater 12 metres wide and more than 5 metres deep was subsequently discovered near Managua’s international airport, and the area was cordoned off by soldiers.
Wilfried Strauch, an adviser to Nicaragua’s Institute of Earth Studies (Ineter), later said he was convinced that the crater was caused by a meteorite.
This view was supported by Ineter scientist Jose Millan, who insisted that “all the evidence that we’ve confirmed at the site corresponds exactly with a meteorite and not with any other type of event.
“We have the seismic register which coincides with the time of impact, and the typical characteristic that it produces a cone in the place of impact,” he added.
Government spokeswoman and First Lady Rosario Murillo expanded on the theory, saying that the crater was caused by a “relatively small meteorite that appears to have come off an asteroid that was passing close to Earth”.
NASA asteroid expert Don Yeomans nevertheless shot this explanation down in flames, saying that the impact felt in Managua “was separated by 13 hours from the close Earth approach of [asteroid] 2014 RC, so the explosion and the asteroid are unrelated.”
Also casting doubt on the meteorite theory was head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office Bill Cooke, who insisted that “for something to produce a hole in the ground that big, it would have generated a very bright fireball, and nothing was reported”.
In his blog on the NASA website, Cooke estimated that the crater would have been created by a blast of “roughly the energy equivalent of 1 tonne of TNT” and that a meteor capable of such force would have created a fireball visible over a wide area.
Jaime Incer, a scientist who advises the Nicaraguan presidency on environmental matters, countered that it was possible nobody was looking up at the sky when the event took place close to midnight.
Lending weight to the NASA scientists’ doubts is the absence of meteorite fragments in or near the crater.
NASA’s Cooke said there could be any number of explanations, ranging from ordinance to “someone out blowing things up.”
Nicaraguan officials indicated that they would invite international experts to investigate further.