meteor malaysia
© Loh Chee Kean,
A photograph by Astronomical Society of Penang member Loh Chee Kean of the unidentified flying object, captured from his personal observatory camera, July 23, 2021
A bright spark and loud boom within Penang's airspace startled many early risers on a Wednesday morning, who were puzzled by an object apparently falling from the sky.

Those living in the southwest district of Sg Ara thought that it was a blast from the nearby quarry site, and others questioned if it was remnants of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' rocket launch to space.

It is possible that it is rubbish falling from the International Space Station, which is usually left to burn up in the earth's atmosphere.

Astronomy enthusiast Lim Choon Kiat, 49, was keeping watch at the time, taking pictures of the night sky, but missed the event by two minutes.

"I was inside the house, observing through the equipment I had outside. I went out at 4.50am to do some calibrations, and went inside my home again at 4.57am. The flash of light from the sky happened at 4.59am before the loud boom came at 5.02am.

"I missed it visually, but I was outside when the object from the sky exploded," the telescope and binoculars supplier told The Vibes.

However, he said he was sure the explosion was from something falling from the sky, as it was a sonic boom directed from the sky down to earth, different from thunder and blasts on land.

Astronomical Society of Penang (ASP) member Loh Chee Kean, 45, managed to get footage of the flying object from his new observatory camera outside his home.

"My observatory camera was pointing north, facing the western sky. From the footage, it was flying from the southwest of the island to the northeast. It flew where my surveillance camera was tilted towards.

"I also managed to catch a picture of the object using my self-made sky camera. Unfortunately, I could not get an image of the full length of the object," the engineer told The Vibes.

ASP founder and president Chong Hon Yew told The Vibes that the group still does not have sufficient information to fully conclude what fell from the sky early Wednesday morning.

The loud bangs and bright flashes were heard and detected in Tg Bungah, Jelutong, and Sg Ara. A report from Kulim in Kedah also noted a sighting of the bright flashes of light.

"We are still gathering information from people that could have seen or heard it. My house has three closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, and all three recorded a loud bang at 5.02am.

"When an object comes into the earth's atmosphere at very high speed, it will burn and will not be able to sustain itself. Usually, it will explode and create a very loud bang.

"The intensity of the flash and bang depends on the side of the object. An object 1m in diameter is considered quite big. It could be the size of a car, house, or much bigger than that."

He said he believes the loud bangs and bright flashes of light were most likely caused by a bolide meteor appearing from space at a great speed, entering the earth's atmosphere.

"However, we don't have enough data yet as it just occurred. We have to spend many days to get enough data to deduce what it is," the retired physics lecturer said. Chong is hoping to get more information about this rare incident from the public who heard, saw, or documented the incident.

"If there are people who were outside at 5am with their dashboard cameras turned on, they probably could have recorded the flash of light and boom.

"When the super bolide meteor passed over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, it exploded with the energy of 500 kilotons of TNT that broke thousands of windows in apartment buildings and injured 1,200 people.

"The Chelyabinsk meteor was observed to be 30 times brighter than the sun, and it left people with skin and retinal burns.

"Many cars on the road with dash cameras were able to record the incident. They saw a long trail of light, many times brighter than the rising sun early that morning," he said.

Currently, the information gathered by ASP includes CCTV footage including the sound of the blast, with outdoor cameras capturing light reflected from vehicles.

He said that pilots flying international flights during that time could have witnessed the incident as well.

However, due to the closure of international borders, an ASP member only managed to identify one flight, Singapore flight SQ323, flying over Penang.

A father-son pair of stargazers, Annamalai Muthu and his 8-year-old son Arrav, spent most of their predawn hours recording possible meteor showers. They also emailed reports to the American Meteor Society, National Security Council, and the Science, Technology, and Innovation Ministry of the rare event.

If the public has more information, such as footage or images captured, Chong is keen for the data so he can calculate, triangulate, and locate the object more accurately.

The public is encouraged to supply information to ASP at their Facebook page.