Technology

Mysterious Fireball Above California Turns Out To Be A Meteor

Mysterious Fireball Above California
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

A mysterious fireball lit up the sky over California earlier this week. It especially captured a lot of attention in the San Francisco area as it streaked across the sky on Wednesday after sunset, leaving a tail of dust behind. Many people wondered what the mysterious fireball above California could be, so they started flooding social media with questions and photos. In the end, it turned out to be just a meteor.

The mysterious fireball above California appeared around 5:30 p.m. Pacific on Wednesday. It left behind what many described as a “smoke tail,” which shined silvery-white as the night sky darkened.

The fireball wasn’t only seen in San Francisco; viewers just 80 miles east of the city were also surprised by the unexpected glow in the night sky.

“I saw it when I drove home,” the mother of a Space.com editor told the publication. “I didn’t know what it was until I heard the news. It was really pretty and just hung there.”

According to  Berkeley Side, some even joked that it could be Santa preparing to deliver gifts around the globe.

As the meteor moved, its tail changed shape, twisting until it started to look like a question mark. The changing appearance caused many who saw it to give their own suggestions of what it could be. Some suggested that the fireball in the sky could have been a streak left behind after the launch of a SpaceX rocket which was scheduled to lift the NROL-71 spy satellite into orbit. The launch had been scheduled for around that time at Vandenberg Air Force Base, although it was delayed, the company said on its website.

The rocket launch was postponed due to a glitch. In a tweet, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, identified the mysterious fireball above California as “for sure a meteor.” He explained in another tweet that the trail was changing as the meteor moved because it was “twisted around by upper-air winds.”

Meteors can get as bright as the planet Venus in the night sky, but they are not as rare as one would think. According to the American Meteor Society, meteors of “fireball magnitude,” such as the one spotted over California, can occur in our atmosphere several thousand times each day. However, it’s rare to see them because they usually flame in over the open ocean or above unpopulated areas, and many others are washed out by daylight.

If you didn’t get to see see the mysterious fireball above California, you watch it in this video: