Did you see it? Large 'fireball' over Central Florida was meteor

Meteor likely exploded over Atlantic Ocean

By J.D. Gallop of Florida Today

MELBOURNE, Fla. - That mysterious flashing light? Turns out, it was a meteor, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The meteor that streaked across the skies of Central Florida on Tuesday was a "large fireball" that likely exploded over the Atlantic Ocean with the energy of a tenth of a kiloton —  or the explosive force equal to that of 100 tons of TNT, according to a sky watcher group. 

“We’re still processing the data, but it was large, maybe a foot across,” said Dwayne Free, director of the Spalding Allsky Camera Network which provides data to NASA’s Planetary Defense Office’s Asteroid Threat Assessment Project in California.

The private group — working as part of a joint project with the Florida Institute of Technology's Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences — coordinates a network of 40 specialty cameras around the world to detect and track meteors, some of them large fireballs called bolides. 

Free believes the one seen over the Space Coast on Tuesday morning was a fireball —  a large, very bright meteor. 

Not unusual

He described them as "routine events" that are seen across the globe. Large ones like the one seen off Central Florida take place, somewhere around the world, at least once a month. 

The fireball — also recorded by a wide-angle camera at Florida Tech — was seen about 2 a.m., and was witnessed by residents from Titusville to Palm Bay.

There were also reports in the media that the meteor, burning with a greenish, blue glow, was seen as far away as Jacksonville.

Similar incidents involving larger meteors have been recorded in recent weeks with large fireballs crashing in western Cuba — exploding with the force of a 1.4 kiloton bomb, said Free — and slamming into Venezuela, leaving behind a small fire, media reports show.

[VIDEO BELOW: Meteor caught on camera in Australia]

In 2013, a massive fireball was recorded exploding in the skies above Chelyabinsk, Russia, injuring nearly 1,000 people, shattering windows and causing minor structural collapses, according to media reports. That bolide, considered a once-in-50-years-event, exploded with the force of 440 kilotons, experts later reported.

Tuesday’s meteor could be seen on a surveillance video by Jacob Kelley, showing a bright light blazing through the dark sky, then fading to black after a brilliant flash.

“It exploded and that’s the reason for the bright flash seen in the video,” Free said, who has been studying meteors since 1985.

Witness accounts

One Palm Bay resident, Dustin Lightsey, was driving home when he spotted the fireball lighting up the night sky.

"I didn't hear any noise but I saw it right on the horizon, it was a neon green fireball with blue streaks," Lightsey said, adding that the meteor looked as if it may have crashed nearby. 

"It looked like it was in a wooded area. I drove around but didn't find anything," he said. 

The fireball was also captured by a camera that feeds data to the Spalding Allsky Camera Network, Free said.

Some residents on social media also reported feeling or hearing a rumble.

“It’s possible. The flash we captured on the camera tells me there was likely a sound too. When these things explode, it’s like a nuclear explosion,” said Free, who guessed that fireball raced toward the ocean, releasing the energy of a small, one-tenth of a kiloton explosion.

He also said that the greenish color seen by witnesses was indicative of the meteor having metallic properties. Some meteors are made up of clumps of ice or other debris, experts point out.

The 45th Weather Squadron confirmed with FLORIDA TODAY that the meteor passed through the night sky early Tuesday. Free said his data, which is shared with organizations around the world, will be given to NASA’s Planetary Defense Office for further evaluation.

The agency, which is overseen by NASA, is responsible for monitoring potentially hazardous space objects — asteroids and comets — that could broach the earth’s orbit.

The office assesses potential threats and also works to plan out projects that could physically redirect such objects as predictions of close encounters ramp up.

The agency will likely have more opportunity to put its theories into place, experts said. In terms of meteors like the one that appeared Tuesday, they are being seen more frequently.

“These bigger (meteors) seem to be occurring more often, lately,” Free said. “But that could be because we have better coverage or maybe we’re just detecting them more often.”

 

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