Sky-watchers across North America were treated to a rare cosmic sight Monday evening: a brilliant fireball streaking across the dusky sky. The spectacle, which was glimpsed by some of us here at Clapway, was caused by a meteor entering the Earth’s atmosphere at around 6:30 p.m. local northeastern time.
Since Monday evening, over 226 sightings have so far been logged by the American Meteor Society, with most people reporting the fireball moving northeast to southwest at about 6:35 p.m. Seemingly, the meteor was witnessed in parts of Maine to as far south as Maryland, and many have reported it to have been blue and visible for around three seconds.
“It happened really fast – three or four seconds – but I remember it being a very bright blue fireball,” said Clapway writer Susan Xu, who saw it in an outer borough of New York City. “It had an orange yellowish tail to it, too.”
There’s no saying where the meteor landed, or if it landed at all, but the American Meteor Society noted that if an impact did occur, it might have been around Carlisle, New York, west of Albany.
“It was so huge, I don’t know how anyone could have missed it if they were outside,” Xu said. “But then again, it did happen so quickly.”
Meteors or “shooting stars” are what we see when a meteoroid from space, which looks like a small rocky or metallic body, passes into the Earth’s atmosphere and burns. Contrary to popular belief, millions of meteors occur in the Earth’s atmosphere daily – what’s more, most meteoroids that cause meteors are only about the size of a grain of sand.
The dazzling glow that typically comes with a meteor depends on the chemical composition of the debris – usually iron, nickel and silicon – and the speed of its movement through the atmosphere. As layers of the meteoroid wear away and ionize, the colors of the light emitted may change according to the layering of minerals.
“It was truly a spectacular sight to see,” Xu added. “But I guess it always is when we get to catch a glimpse of the great unknown.”