It lasted only a few seconds and was no bigger than a washing machine – or a small boulder or a volleyball or a baseball – but the space rock that hurtled across the Atlantic Seaboard in a ball of flames last night lit up the sky … and social media.
“Meteors hit the earth every day – but most go unnoticed,” said Mike Hankey, the operations manager for the American Meteor Society. “This was on the East Coast, it was a Friday night, and it was 8 p.m., so people were out and noticing it.”
Security cameras in Maryland and Delaware captured the event.
Hankey said his organization received sighting reports from more than 1,000 people as the meteor tracked northwest-to-southeast across New Jersey to where it fell in the Atlantic Ocean. There were reports of flashes of light as far south as Florida and as far inland as Ohio.
Friday night's event generated the most reports since the organization began monitoring sightings in 2005, reported the Star-Ledger. Witness reports of direction and trajectory were used to generate a map showing the meteor's track.
"If it produced rocks, they didn't end up on dry land," Bill Cooke, of NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office said. "On the order of 100 events like the one last night occur every year planet-wide. This one happened to occur on a Friday night over a heavily populated area, so it got a lot of attention."
Friday night's light show paled in comparison to the meteor that blew up over Chelyabinsk, Russia, five weeks ago, destroying buildings and injuring more than 1,000 people.
That meteor was much closer to the ground and exploded more than 12 miles above the Earth's surface, causing destructive shock waves. It was the largest recorded meteor since 1908.
"This is not nearly as big as [Russia's meteor], not in a long shot," Kelly Beatty, an astronomer at the Clay Center Observatory in Brookline, Mass., told the Boston Globe "There's a hundred tons of meteorite that hit the Earth's atmosphere every day. [This] was a large-ish object that may have been the size of about a washing machine, approximately."
Most space rocks are the size of pebbles and burn up in Earth's upper atmosphere. While the washing-machine-boulder-volley-ball-baseball-sized rock that grazed the East Coast wasn't of the same caliber as the Russian meteor, it still was a rare event, and those who saw it should count themselves lucky.
"An object this bright and this spectacular is rare," Beatty said. "I wouldn't expect to see another fireball like this for another 10 to 20 years."