Meteor suspected after unexplained sightings, blast in Indonesia
12-19-2004, 07h35

TANGERANG, Indonesia (AFP) - A large explosion was heard over Jakarta after a suspected meteor was seen streaking across the sky over the Indonesian capital.

The blast, which came as the country is on heightened alert after warnings of an imminent extremist attack, caused brief alarm but astronomers said it was likely a large meteor exploding as it fell to Earth.

Dozens of people telephoned Jakarta's ElShinta radio to describe an object, white in appearance, crossing the sky west of Jakarta and a violent noise followed by what they said sounded like an echo.

The explosion could be heard in Tangerang, just west of Jakarta, the southern suburb of Depok and as far away as Bogor, some 60 kilometers (35 miles) south of the capital.

"It is difficult to say what it was because there were no clear timings between the sighting and the blast, but from what the various accounts said, it is very likely to have been a falling meteor," said astronomer Muji Raharto.

More than six hours after the sightings were reported at around 7:30 am (0030 GMT) it was still unclear what the object was or where it exploded.

Police said they had no reports of any fallen objects and said they were still investigating the origin of the explosion.

"We have called all subdistricts and they all say they are not aware" of falling meteor in their area, a female police officer on duty at the Tangerang district police, First Inspector Kamtini told AFP.

Air force spokesman First Air Marshal Sagom Tambun said the air force was not monitoring falling objects such as meteors.

"Our radars are only for detecting and monitoring horizontal moving objects in the sky, and only then are we interested if the object suddenly moves on the vertical," Tambun said, adding that he has had no reports of any observation of a falling object in the sky so far.

Indonesia's security forces have been on alert after warnings from western governments that Islamic militants blamed for a series of deadly bombings in the country were planning an imminent attack in the run-up to Christmas.

Meanwhile, meteorologists in both Jakarta and Tangerang said there had been no seismic irregularities registered in the areas. Officials at Jakarta's international airport said their radars were incapable of picking up meteors.

Raharto, from the Boscha astronomical observatory in Bandung, West Java, told AFP that only specialised radars could detect falling space debris and to be visible in daylight, the falling meteor would have to be substantial in size.

He also said the suspected meteor could have exploded as it entered the Earth's atmosphere, explaining the absence of any evidence of a large impact.

Raharto also said that based on the witnesses saying they heard what appeared to be an echo after the explosion, the suspected meteor could have exploded over a region with high relief, such as the hills around Jakarta.

He said it was unlikely that the falling object was part of an obsolete satellite as some witnesses cited a clear tail behind the object.