SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — What appears to be a meteor blazed over the North Bay midday Saturday creating a frenzy of excited tweets and blog posts, and triggering calls to 9-1-1 dispatchers reporting what looked like a possible aircraft going down.
The space rock was actually the second fireball to light up Northern California skies Saturday — the first being the Delta II rocket launch at 6:22 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base that left an upper atmosphere trail of exhaust lit up before sunrise. The meteor streaked overhead about six hours later.
“We got a call on 911 saying that they had seen an object falling from the sky. It appeared to be a plane, they felt they saw flames,” Sgt. Cecile Focha of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office told KPIX 5.
The call prompted deputies, CHP units and the sheriff department’s helicopter nicknamed “Henry-1” to go to an area near the town of Valley Ford.
“Henry-1 completed a search of the area. And along with bystander reports, it was determined that it was actually a meteor that had fallen, not a burning airplane,” said Captain David Bynum of the Bodega Bay Fire Department.
The American Meteor Society tracked 34 reports of the fireball, all coming in after noon from across the Bay Area, and even as far north as Eureka.
An observer from Lafayette tells the society, “This object was moving very fast at a very steep trajectory. It was intensely clear, and the colors were very obvious. Shiny chrome was definitely part of the ball, as if sunlight were reflecting off of it. The ball was surrounded by intense white light with bright, fluorescent green trailing from the base into the front of the tail which was white at the tip. I was driving my car on the freeway and had enough time to get a good look at it. It was coming in too steep and fast to be a plane.”
“This thing gets very bright because it gets very, very hot. Thousands of degrees, and just for a few seconds until, you know, it self-destructs in this burst of light,” Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI institute told KPIX 5.
The map generated by the organization shows the report frequency, and indicates the general direction of the fireball toward the northwest.
A hearty discussion on Reddit shows the confusion by the two fireballs, separated by only hours. Several people reported seeing the second object, the meteor, around midday.
One person writes, “I saw what appeared to be a flaming object over the ocean mid day today. I was standing on the beach just off Judah [looking off toward the Farralon Islands] just after 12:45 today and thought I spotted a kite, but it descended towards the ocean but did not make a splash or a sound. I thought the only thing it could’ve been was a meteorite, since it disappeared from view or flamed out before it intersected the horizon.”
Nico007f wites, “I was sailing on the bay today and saw a bright descending light that flamed out somewhere near Angel Island around that time. Wasn’t sure if it was a meteorite or a flare.”
The Press Democrat reports the apparent meteor was seen from Valley Ford to Santa Rosa, and even as far north as Fort Bragg. At one point, Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies launched their helicopter “Henry 1” to search for the reported downed aircraft.
Many witnesses described it as bright white, even changing colors as it glowed for about 10 seconds.
“It was amazing,” Mark Morelli of Santa Rosa told the Press Democrat, who saw it while driving down Guerneville Road. “The tip was bright green and it had a really long tail.”
Another 10 fireballs were reported last week over California.
REPORT METEORS: American Meteor Society
NASA has a network of worldwide cameras tracking “fireballs” in the sky. That refers to objects that are glowing brighter than Venus. The cameras only function at night, however, and did not appear to capture Saturday’s midday meteor. http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/
On Twitter, observers had a field day.
And plenty of meteor watchers made reference to the Super Bowl, including discussions of craters and stadiums.
VIDEO OF SATURDAY’s 6:22 A.M. ROCKET LAUNCH: