The Bay Area meteor December 19, 2018, photographed by David Smoyer on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.
Credit: David Smoyer
Many people were able to admire and confuse the fireball that exploded on the northern California coast just after sunset on Wednesday (December 19).
People as far south as Anaheim and north to Medford, Oregon, spotted the meteor or trail left behind, according to a watch map posted by the American Meteor Society (AMS). That trail stayed in the sky for a while – long enough to be distorted by high altitude winds in a strange form of corkscrew, which led some people on Twitter to speculate that it was a trail left behind by a vehicle of some kind .
The sky show was also visible to the east. For example, David Smoyer saw the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. [The Brilliant California Fireball of Dec. 19, 2018 in Photos]
"The sunset was spectacular by itself, but when this brilliant fireball fell over the western sky, it lit up, appeared in several pieces and left a glowing train that persisted for about 20 minutes," Smoyer said. Space. with via email.
"I was fortunate to see many meteors and many bright fireballs, including dozens during the 2001 Leonid meteor shower blast, but it was the most brilliant and impressive I remember," added Smoyer.
The trail of the fireball glowed from a beautiful silvery white as the sky darkened, because it was high enough to still catch a few rays of the setting sun. Mark O & # 39; Lone saw the cloud feature of San Rafael, north of San Francisco.
"I was walking down our stairs, my arms full of Christmas presents, when I saw this unusual sight," he told Space.com via e-mail.
Observations from people like Smoyer and O & # 39; Lone helped the researchers chart the path of the fireball. (In case you are wondering, "fireball" is a technical term; it refers to any meteor that shines at least as brightly as Venus in the night sky.)
"An analysis of eye-witness reports indicates that the meteor was visible at an altitude of 48 miles [77 kilometers] over the Pacific Ocean about 50 miles [80 km] west of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, "scientists at Meteoroid's Office of the Environment at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama wrote in a blog post Thursday (Dec. 20).
"Moving to the south west at 63,000 mph [101,000 km/h], he managed to survive just one second before ablating and breaking at an altitude of 34 miles [55 km] above the ocean, "they added.
Fireballs are not rare; several thousand of them occur every day around the world, according to the AMS. But most of these dramatic meteors grace the open ocean or sparsely populated land areas. And they glow only briefly, so you have to be very lucky to even see one that is above your city or town – unless it leaves a long, drawn-out trail as the Wednesday fireball did.
Editor's note: If you took an incredible photo of the California fireball that you would like to share with Space.com and our news partners for a possible story or image gallery, please send comments and images to: [email protected]
Mike Wall's book on the search for alien life "Out there"(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Karl Tate) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow Us @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Originally published in Space.com.