The brilliant flash of light that hundreds of people on the East Coast spotted in the evening sky Friday was a boulder-size meteor that entered the Earth’s atmosphere around 8 p.m., according to NASA.
Bill Cooke, who works for the space agency’s Meteoroid Environments Office, confirmed in an email that the meteor entered over eastern Pennsylvania, producing a “brilliant fireball that was seen by many along the East Coast.”
The meteor, which was big enough to produce meteorites, darted southeast out into the Atlantic Ocean, according to Cooke. He noted that if it did produce meteorites, “they fell harmlessly into the Atlantic.”
The flying object was classified as a fireball, which is a meteor that “appears to be brighter than the planet Venus, which is the 3rd brightest object in the sky, next to the Sun and Moon,” Cooke said.
An object that size “can produce light equivalent to the full moon for a short instant,” Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society said on the agency’s website. “The reason for this is the extreme velocity at which these objects strike the atmosphere. Even the slowest meteors are still traveling at 10 miles per SECOND, which is much faster than a speeding bullet.”
Thought fireballs occur every day all over the world, it’s not very often that people actually spot one in the sky, Lunsford said.
“It is rare though for an individual to see more than one or two per lifetime as they also occur during the day, on a cloudy night, or over a remote area where no one sees it,” he added.
The meteor sighting sent social media sites buzzing and there were more than 500 visual sightings reported to the American Meteor Society.
The object was also captured by security cameras, including one in Maryland, which spotted the meteor soaring through the evening sky.
The East Coast meteor was not nearly as threatening as the one that darted across Russia in February and injured more than 1,000 people and caused millions of dollars worth of damage.