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People often mistake meteors for UFOs or planes about to crash - meteors have a strange knack for playing tricks on unsuspecting eyes. The brain has trouble interpreting the size, distance and therefore the actual speed of a light source/object in the sky with no/few visual cues, so it makes up the missing information. This is the basic principal of an optical illusion, and the nature meteors (brief and bright) makes them ideal candidates.
This page explains in a bit more detail about why meteors can appear to be closer to the ground (or the observer) than they actually are.
This diagram should help you visualize what is going on:
Basically, the lower down in the sky (or closer to the horizon) a meteor appears to be, the further away it probably is. In the exceptional cases where this is not the case, and a meteor is still luminous, and less than 1km away from you, unless you're within diving distance of a bunker, that would probably be the last thing you ever saw.
In 1908, what is thought to be a fragment of a comet exploded somewhere between 5 and 10 km above Tunguska, devastating an estimated 2150 square km and knocking down 80 million trees!
Originally posted by fraterormus
When it struck it sounded like a car hitting a tree. No thunderous boom, or anything like that. Certainly no devastating shock wave felt two acres away. Matter of fact, there was a tree that was but a few feet from impact. The tree remained upright though it caught on fire and was hollowed out from the fire.
Originally posted by C.H.U.D.
Well, if that story is true, and I'm not sure I believe it because a meteorite that small would likely not cause any fires or be hot enough to do so, then you might not hear any "thunderous boom" (although there would likely be some rumbling in the distance before hand).
Meteorites of that size are slowed down to well below the sound barrier pretty quickly by the atmosphere. They are usually "free falling" when they reach the ground, so no "shock wave" or loud boom.