A bright fireball lit up the sky Sunday night, sparking reports from the D.C. region as well as parts of the Northeast and the Midwest.
The fireball appeared around 11 p.m. on Sunday night, and coincided with reports of “shooting stars” and meteors. The American Meteor Society, which tracks fireballs, has received more than 150 reports of this fireball from Virginia to New Hampshire, and as far west as central Ohio. Of those reports, 44 have come from Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. A large number of reports have come in from the highly populated areas of New York City, Philadelphia, Pa., and Pittsburgh, Pa., as well.
Jeremy Settle caught the fireball on video (above) from his New York apartment, looking west. As the fireball drops toward the horizon, it appears to explode in a bright white flash.
Jesse Ferrell, a social media coordinator for Accuweather, captured the fireball lighting up the sky in State College, Pa. in the YouTube video above. While you cannot see the actual fireball in the video, you can see how some people would think this was the result of a distant storm, or heat lightning.
The American Meteor Society defines a fireball as a bright meteor, and also notes that several thousand meteors of fireball magnitude occur each day, though the vast majority of them appear over unpopulated areas. This particular fireball could be related to the meteor showers that are active in the early fall, including the Southern Taurids, which occur from September to November. The American Meteor Society writes:
The [Southern Taurids] shower is active for more than two months but rarely produces more than five shower members per hour, even at maximum activity. The Taurids (both branches) are rich in fireballs and are often responsible for increased number of fireball reports from September through November.
One Capital Weather Gang reader reported seeing five meteors before the fireball lit up the sky west of Baltimore:
@capitalweather at Merriweather for Jack White and saw at least 5 shooting stars. Then a flash on the way home (295S). Beautiful cold night!— Stephen (@BradfordEra) September 15, 2014
It appears possible that this fireball was technically a bolide, given the reports of a “flash” or “explosion.” A bolide is a very intense, bright fireball, that explodes in a flash of light as it ends. One observer near Bucyrus, Ohio, who reported the fireball to the American Meteor Society, writes, “at first I thought I was seeing a really nice trailing meteor, but as I watched it fall straight down it burst into a fireball (but I saw no fragmentation).”
In the D.C. area, the fireball lit up social media, as well as the sky. Capital Weather Gang received numerous reports of the bright light:
@capitalweather a bright spot traveling across the northwestern sky, followed by a bright flash near the horizon. comet? meteor?— Anh Tran (@anharchy) September 15, 2014
@capitalweather saw a bright flash of light around 10:50 in cross junction va. Resembled heat lightning— Benjamin Barb (@BenjaminBarb) September 15, 2014
Seeing a couple meteors from my balcony in Ballston @capitalweather— LauraK (@LauraUDDC27) September 15, 2014
@capitalweather Thought I saw a flash to the northwest of Columbia Heights— Jennifer Hill (@jhill50) September 15, 2014
@capitalweather just saw huge fireball to the north west of Camden yards in Baltimore— BJH (@ActuallyBJH) September 15, 2014
If you saw the fireball, report it to the American Meteor Society.