Was it a brilliant meteor that flashed across Australia? (Illustration by Leonard Wikberg III, courtesy ScienceData.net)
“Suddenly there was this flash, it’s the only way I can describe it – it was so bright it was a white flash and it lit everything up. It was like somebody had turned on 50,000 spotlights.”
That’s how Elsa Nelms described the bright light in the Australian outback around 7 p.m. local time last night, as a huge fireball reportedly crashed to Earth somewhere in the state of Queensland.
“We all looked up in the sky and there was a white smoke trail coming from the Northeast – like a firecracker smoke trail but it was too high to even be an aircraft,” the Winton resident told the Australian Associated Press.
Some citizens thought they might be under attack.
“[My friend] thought we were getting bombed and it just come over this big fire with a big tail about the size of a semi-trailer and we heard this big explosion,” a witness said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The ground was just vibrating and there was this big vapor trail and it stayed in the air for about 10 minutes … we didn’t know what was happening.”
Grazier Peter Crombie told ABC the light show was fantastic.
1966 meteor seen above Wrightwood, Calif. (NASA photo: James W. Young)
“It just lit up the whole garden here like an arc light … with that really brilliant light,” he said. “I was talking to one lady or two ladies driving along, they said it lit up the whole inside of the car. You could just see everything you know, you could honestly read a newspaper.”
“It actually shook buildings,” George Schafer of Winton told the Townsville Bulletin. “There was a bang like you wouldn’t believe.”
Mike Barton of Australian Search and Rescue says the pilot of a Virgin Blue passenger jet reported the unidentified object flying over him at about 25,000 feet, and told ABC it “looks like some sort of meteor space re-entry.”
Murray Smith from the town of Roma described his experience to the network.
“I actually had my back to it, but somebody yelled out what’s that?” he said. “I looked around and I said what the hell is it? It was a big fireball. I don’t know how big you’d say it was, as big as the sun anyway with the front end of it and a pretty long comet like tail on it. But all I can say was it was big. Nothing like I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a few satellites and this and that, but I’d never seen anything as big as that one.”
Back in Winton, Nelms told AAP her house shook and the entire town either witnessed or felt the event, as phones instantly started ringing and people jumped out of their homes.
“The neighbors came over and they were white-faced,” she said.
Nelms said she spoke with others some 80 miles away from Winton who saw the flash but didn’t feel any vibration.
“There’s probably is a big hole somewhere – but had this fallen on Winton we probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it,” she said.
While no one has confirmed what the object was, officials suspect it was a meteorite, though the location of impact has yet to be determined.