Skip to main content

Meteor lights up East Coast -- and social media

By Chandler Friedman and Greg Botelho, CNN
March 23, 2013 -- Updated 1937 GMT (0337 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The streak, as bright as a full moon, was a meteor 1 yard in diameter, NASA says
  • NEW: It entered the atmosphere over Pennsylvania, heading toward the Atlantic
  • The FAA says it fielded calls about meteor sightings from Virginia to Maine
  • The night light show spurs a flurry of activity on social media

Did you see the meteor? Upload your photos and video at CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- The streaking ball of fire Friday night above the East Coast did not, alas, signal the end to civilization as we know it.

Though you might get that sense from social media.

The sky lit up along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard with reports of "a thin streak of blue-greenish-white" from people like Chip Guy, who was driving in eastern Maryland when he and his family he spotted it.

"It didn't last more than eight or nine seconds, then it disappeared," said Guy, a spokesman for Sussex County, Delaware. "Frankly, I didn't think too much of it."

But his tune changed once he posted something about the presumed meteor on a local social media web page, which triggered a quick and hearty response.

Welcome to the year of the comet

That was just the tip of the online iceberg. Through Friday night, new reports of meteor sightings appeared every few seconds on Twitter, some of them from the metropolises of New York City and Washington.

"OMG I saw a real meteor in the Brooklyn's sky," wrote one person on Twitter, with the handle Curious Sergey. "It's all over the news now! I thought it is some kind of firework..."

The Federal Aviation Administration fielded calls about a meteor from Virginia to Maine, said agency spokeswoman Arlene Salac.

So what exactly was it?

Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for NORAD, said his agency heard about the sightings, too, and can confirm it was not from anything man-made, such as a plane or falling satellite.

On Saturday, Bill Cooke from NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office explained that the bright, fast-flying object was, in fact, a meteor.

The space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory defines a meteor as "light phenomena" from a meteoroid -- which is itself a comet or asteroid orbiting the sun -- that "enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes."

It made for quite a show, producing a fireball as bright as a full moon and spurring more than 630 visual reports to be submitted to the American Meteor Society, as it soared southwest into the Atlantic Ocean.

But just because it was bright doesn't mean it was big. The meteor was one yard in diameter, about the size of an exercise ball, when it entered the atmosphere over eastern Pennsylvania, said Cooke.

That's still big enough potentially to produce meteorites -- which are meteoroids, or fragments thereof, that do manage to hit the Earth -- before burning completely. If it did, though, they fell harmlessly into the Atlantic, according to Cooke.

As anyone who has seen a shooting star can attest, it's hardly unprecedented for otherworldly objects to enter the Earth's atmosphere. And some of them do strike our planet, though they tend to be small when they do and strike unpopulated areas on land or plunge into the world's oceans.

There are exceptions, like the massive asteroid that many experts believe killed off dinosaurs. More recently, a meteor exploded over the steppes of southwestern Russia on February 15, a blast that scientists at Canada's University of Western Ontario estimated had the energy of about 30 early nuclear bombs.

The related flash and boom shattered glass in buildings and left about 1,000 people hurt, authorities said.

There were no confirmed reports Friday night that the greenish streak spotted by so many actually impacted anywhere.

Even if it didn't, the mere possibility was enough to send chills down some stargazers' spines.

"Seriously, after that massive meteor in california a few weeks ago, the one that hit russia, and now this hugee one tonight," wrote a Twitter user by the name of Olivia, referring to the Russia incident and a mass shooting star sighting on the West Coast last night. "Little scaryy."

Read more space and science news on Light Years

CNN's John Branch contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Space
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
Planetary nebula Abell 33 has taken on romantic proportions.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
You can't see it happening on Earth, but space itself is stretching. Ever since the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, the universe has been getting bigger.
March 26, 2014 -- Updated 2059 GMT (0459 HKT)
Scientists have added another celestial body to the short list of objects in our solar system that have rings around them.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Astronomers have discovered a dwarf planet that's even farther away than Pluto.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
Our galactic neighborhood just got a lot bigger. NASA announced the discovery of 715 new planets.
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding how our world as we know it came to be.
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
From a sheep ranch in Western Australia comes the oldest slice of Earth we know.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1902 GMT (0302 HKT)
Cassiopeia A was a star more than eight times the mass of our sun before it exploded in the cataclysmic, fiery death astronomers call a supernova.
February 10, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Researchers have found clues that water could be flowing in the present, at least during warm seasons.
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
The "jelly doughnut" rock that seemed to appear out of nowhere on Mars last month did not fall out of an extraterrestrial pastry box.
February 7, 2014 -- Updated 0356 GMT (1156 HKT)
It's a dot in the sky.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 0744 GMT (1544 HKT)
Reports of Jade Rabbit's demise may have been premature.
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It's rare for astronomers to spot a planet in a star cluster. That's partly why a cluster called Messier 67 is so special: We now know that it has three planets orbiting stars.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 1203 GMT (2003 HKT)
What do you need to map a billion stars? A billion-pixel camera certainly helps.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
NASA's rover Curiosity has now given scientists the strongest evidence to date that the environment on the Red Planet could have supported life billions of years ago.
December 7, 2013 -- Updated 1745 GMT (0145 HKT)
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided your multicolored space distraction of the day: images of a swirling, six-sided weather feature on the surface of Saturn.
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 2023 GMT (0423 HKT)
Imagine the delight at unwrapping your Christmas present in 2043 and discovering you've been gifted a trip around the Moon.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 2206 GMT (0606 HKT)
A Dutch company says it is moving along with its plan to send four lucky Earthlings to colonize the Red Planet. The catch: They won't ever come back.
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 1711 GMT (0111 HKT)
You may have heard it before: billions of years ago Mars probably looked more like Earth does now, with clouds and oceans and a much thicker atmosphere.
November 13, 2013 -- Updated 1552 GMT (2352 HKT)
NASA has given the people of Earth a rare treat: A color mosaic that captures not only Saturn, but also the tiny dots of Earth and other planets in the background.
November 5, 2013 -- Updated 1739 GMT (0139 HKT)
Ever have one of those days where you just wanna be alone, maybe have the planet to yourself?
ADVERTISEMENT