What was that? Fireball streaking across sky seen all over San Diego

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SAN DIEGO — San Diegans caught a glimpse of a bright, colorful fireball moving quickly across the night sky Saturday evening.

The streak of light, spotted just after 8:45 p.m., was reported widely around Southern California, with residents chiming in that they saw it all over San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. Some sightings came as far east as Las Vegas.

According to Robert Lunsford with the American Meteor Society, fireballs — which are meteors that are larger and brighter than normal — are very common, with hundreds seen around the world each day. But the clear skies, warm temperatures, dense population areas and timing on a weekend evening all likely contributed to why the streak was so well-viewed across broad regions.

A “heat map” shows the areas where the most people reported seeing a fireball on Oct. 16, 2021. (Photo: American Meteor Society)

As of 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the AMS, which collects reports from volunteer contributors around the world to compile information on meteors, 87 people had formally reported the streak. Dozens if not hundreds more said on social media that they spotted the fireball.

It comes during a window of October and November that will have its fair share of meteor showers, Lunsford said. “Fireball producing meteor showers such as the Taurids are active,” he explained by email.

So what are the chances Saturday’s meteor reached the Earth’s surface?

“Looking at the computer generated trajectory … it is possible that this fireball was a member of the Taurid shower,” he continued. “If that is the case then there is a near zero percent chance that this object reached the ground as the comet based material that composes Taurid meteors are just too fragile to survive their plunge through the atmosphere.”

If a piece of a meteor does reach Earth, it becomes classified a meteorite — but as Lunsford said, that appears unlikely for Saturday’s streak.

Many of the people who chimed in online reported seeing brilliant colors, including green and red, as the fireball crossed the sky. Lunsford said there’s a simple explanation: “These are caused by the elemental contents of the meteor such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, and iron.”

An alternative view shows the location of American Meteor Society contributors in San Diego County who spotted the fireball Oct. 16. (Photo: AMS)

You can check out a map of the areas where residents reported seeing the fireball and learn more about the American Meteor Society on their website.

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