NEW YORK (Reuters) - A meteor bright enough to be classified as a fireball lit up the night sky over eastern North America on Friday, providing a spectacle witnessed in at least 13 states, Washington, D.C. and two Canadian provinces, the American Meteor Society said.
The society verified more than 300 witness sightings from Ontario and Quebec down to the southern U.S. state of North Carolina with more than 100 reports yet to be reviewed, said Mike Hankey, an observer for the American Meteor Society.
“This was most certainly a fireball seen over a good portion of the eastern states,” said Robert Lunsford, the society’s fireball coordinator.
“It happened at a good time, around 8 o’clock on a Friday night, when a lot of people were out to see it,” Lunsford said.
The society describes a fireball as a meteor brighter than Venus and Lunsford said they can be brighter than the Sun, as was the case with the one that streaked across the sky and exploded over Russia on February 15.
Meteors are small particles from the solar system that burn from friction when entering the atmosphere.
Several thousand meteors of fireball magnitude occur each day, most of them unseen over the oceans or hidden by daylight, the society said on its website.
This one was seen up and down the East Coast and in inland states such as West Virginia and Ohio, the society said.
The fireball’s likely trajectory showed it moving east from eastern Pennsylvania and across New Jersey, passing just south of New York City and then over the Atlantic Ocean, based on witness reports to the society.
“I originally thought the fireball was a low-flying plane,” said one witness from West Chester, Pennsylvania, whose comments were logged by the society.
Many witnesses called it the brightest meteor they had ever seen. “I’m still in disbelief,” said another from Boonsboro, Maryland.
Editing by Todd Eastham