Friday Night Lights: Fireball Lights Up the U.S. East Coast

Visibility map of the Manhattan meteor (American Meteor Society)

Last night a bright meteor was spotted up and down the northern mid-Atlantic United States from Maryland to Manhattan to Massachusetts. Streaking across the sky just before 8 p.m. EDT, the fireball was witnessed by thousands — the American Meteor Society alone has so far received over 630 reports on its website from the event. (Update 3/25: The AMS has received now over 1170 reports of the meteor.)

While many false images of the meteor quickly began circulating online, the video above is real — captured from a security camera in Thurmont, MD and uploaded to YouTube by Kim Fox (courtesy of Alan Boyle’s article on NBC News’ Cosmic Log.)

So what’s up with all these meteors lately?

According to NASA meteor specialist Bill Cooke, Friday’s fireball — which has become known as the “Manhattan meteor” — was likely caused by a boulder-sized asteroid about 3 feet (0.9 meters) wide entering Earth’s atmosphere. While bolides of this size sometimes result in meteorites that land on the ground, the last reports of the Manhattan meteor have it miles over the Atlantic… any pieces that survived entry and disintegration probably ended up in the ocean.

Here’s another video of the event from a Massachusetts news station.

And if you’re concerned about an apparent increase in the rate of meteors being spotted around the world, don’t be alarmed. Remember — spring is fireball season, after all.

“We’ve known about this phenomenon for more than 30 years. It’s not only fireballs that are affected. Meteorite falls–space rocks that actually hit the ground–are more common in spring as well.”

– Bill Cooke,  NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Center

So keep an eye on the sky over the next few weeks — you never know when we’ll be treated to another show!