Meteor Seen In Skies Over Arizona, Nevada and Southern California
September 15, 2011

Meteor Seen In Skies Over Arizona, Nevada and Southern California


Arizona, Nevada and Southern California residents got a brilliantly bright treat Wednesday night as a possible fragment of an asteroid entered Earth´s atmosphere and streaked across the southwestern sky, according to a NASA scientist, after dozens of eyewitness reports were taken.

Residents from Phoenix to Las Vegas reported to local authorities and various media outlets that they had seen a bright light moving quickly across the night sky west to east at around 7:45 pm PDT (10:45 pm EDT). Experts said the bright object was most likely a fireball, or very bright meteor.

Dozens of calls came through to police stations including at Maricopa County Sheriff´s Office. And sheriff´s deputies at Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix reported seeing the object themselves, according to Lt. Justin Griffin, a spokesman for the Sheriff´s Office.

The deputies described the object as a greenish light moving across the sky from north to south, Griffin told Reuters.

“It took an unusually long time to get across the sky,” Griffin said. “It's like a meteor. It's not like we had any flying objects with little green men or anything like that.”

“I saw something that looked like a falling star but it must have been a fireball in the atmosphere,” an eyewitness told NBCLA. “It was huge. It had a green glow in front of it and a white tail. It looked like green fireworks going across the sky.”

Don Yeomans, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who manages NASA's Near Earth Object Program, said the object was probably a “near-earth asteroid” no bigger than a basketball. “It's sort of Mother Nature's shot across the bow,” he told the LA Times. “It's an impressive light show, one of Mother Nature's best.”

The object most likely incinerated before striking the ground. Any object smaller than 100 feet isn´t going to cause a lot of damage on the ground, said Yeomans. There is no reason for concern. “We basically ran it over,” he joked.

While many witnesses reported seeing a bluish-green light in the sky, others said it appeared yellow and orange.

Experts said that a meteor is slower than a regular shooting star, and it is not unusual for it to appear to change colors as it moves through the atmosphere.

Yeomans said NASA officials checked to ensure the object was not a wayward spacecraft. “We are fairly confident that it was not a spacecraft or space junk,” Yeomans said.

According to Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, witnesses were probably seeing “a piece of interplanetary debris” that “passed through the Earth´s atmosphere and burned up.”

The public “saw something that was at a very high altitude, just a piece of rock or maybe a grain of sand as it hit the atmosphere,” Krupp told local TV station KCAL9 in an interview.

The American Meteor Society reported that there are two known meteor showers occurring this week, the Iota Cassiopeiids and the Epsilon Perseids, which peaked September 12 and 10, respectively. But the organization said that bright moonlight would have obscured viewing for all but the brightest of meteors this week.

Ian Gregor, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said they received several calls about the sightings, and there were some initial concerns that it may have been an aircraft. But he later confirmed that there were no aircraft incidents reported in the Western region.

The sightings early Wednesday evening caused a stir on Twitter. One observer tweeted: “I saw a lot of red in it from my vantage point in Phoenix, as well as the blue and green tail.” Another said: “It was CRAZY! Green and going fast & then it just burned out.”

The bluish-green color suggests the object had some magnesium or nickel in it, said Yeomans. Orange is usually an indication that it is entering the atmosphere at several miles per second. “They make an impressive show for such a small object,” he added.

Yeomans said fireball events are much more rare than shooting stars, but they happen on a weekly basis somewhere on the planet, usually over the ocean. “They are not as uncommon as you think,” he said.

Sergeant Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said his office received four calls on the fiery event. He added that “myself and other officers observed it as well.”

“We all made our wishes and went back to work. Nothing more to report. Have a safe night,” he added.


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