Rare daylight meteor seen, heard over Nevada, California

LOS ANGELES Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:24am EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A rare daytime meteor was seen and heard streaking over northern Nevada and parts of California on Sunday, just after the peak of an annual meteor shower.

Observers in the Reno-Sparks area of Nevada reported seeing a fireball at about 8 a.m. local time, accompanied or followed by a thunderous clap that experts said could have been a sonic boom from the meteor or the sound of it breaking up high over the Earth.

"It probably would have exploded as it entered the atmosphere," said Mike Smith, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Sacramento, California.

The Reno-Gazette Journal reported in an online account that the booming noise set off alarms at a Walmart store in Carson City, Nevada's capital, and was felt in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin and into California.

The visible display of the meteor was described as dazzling.

"I was out ... hiking in the mountains (and) saw this great, big, white ball streaming across the sky to the west," Ellen Pillard, a Reno resident, told the Journal. "Then it just disappeared." Minutes later, she said, she heard a "boom."

"It was just amazing," Pillard said. "I thought maybe I was dreaming."

The meteor was reported seen in California from Sacramento to Orange County, hundreds of miles to the south. But the fireball went unnoticed in much of the Los Angeles area and other parts of Southern California because of cloudy skies.

While meteors visible at night typically range in size from a pebble to a grain of sand, a meteor large enough to be seen during daylight hours would presumably be as big as a baseball or softball, Smith said.

Sunday's unusual daytime shooting star came just after the pre-dawn peak of the Lyrid meteor shower, an annual display that occurs when the Earth passes through remnants of space debris left by a comet that last approached the planet in 1861 on its 400-year orbit of the sun, Smith said.

(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Greg McCune and Stacey Joyce)

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