Environment & Science

Sightings of fireball streaking across SoCal sky (video)

Flickr user Mike Lewinski captures past Taurid meteors streaking across the sky. Lewinski notes,
Flickr user Mike Lewinski captures past Taurid meteors streaking across the sky. Lewinski notes, "I'm sorry I didn't see this one but happy my camera did." A series of "fireball" sitings across Southern California on Wednesday night were likely associated with the Taurid meteor showers, though few if any managed to catch this batch on camera.
Mike Lewinski

Southern Californians from Santa Barbara to San Diego have reported seeing a fireball that forecasters said was most likely a meteor streaking across the sky.

The National Weather Service says the sightings reported starting at about 8 p.m. Wednesday night are most likely associated with the South Taurids meteor shower that has been especially active in early November. Astronomers say the Taurids don't bring big numbers of visible meteors but a high percentage of extremely bright ones that look like fireballs.

"'Fireball' is a bright meteor, which is a streak of light caused by stuff hitting the atmosphere at very high speeds from space. So most meteors are dust and sand sized. If you get one that's pebble to small rock or bigger size, then it's as bright as Venus or brighter in the sky, and that gets called a 'fireball,'" Bruce Betts, a scientist with The Planetary Society in Pasadena, told KPCC's Susanne Whatley.

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The Taurids are leftover debris from a comet called Encke, which spits out dust, pebbles and gas, and "when the Earth passes through that, they hit the atmosphere at, like, 60,000 mph, and so it doesn't take much to make a bright streak in the sky," said Betts.

Twitter lit up with reports of the sightings, though few if any were able to capture the streak on photo or video.

Comedian Eli Braden tweeted that he "just saw an absolutely INSANE meteor in the sky above Glendale, CA ... "


KCBS reports they have video of the meteor captured on a viewer's home security camera. Check out their report below.

In most cases, meteors like the one seen Wednesday night are completely harmless, but the bigger ones, like the one that struck central Russia last year, can do damage and cause injuries. That's why scientists are developing ways to detect and avert the big ones.

"Planetary Society is supporting one [method] that would use spacecraft with lasers to vaporize parts of the asteroid and actually push it. Or you can hit it with an impactor, or if you don't have much time and it's bigger, you may have to go with nuclear weapons," Betts said.

Those interested in watching a meteor shower have a couple of options as the year draws to a close, according to Betts. The Taurids, which are more likely to produce the big fireballs, can still be seen in November, though they are less frequent, with about five to 10 per hour. In December, the more well-known Perseid meteor showers will produce about 100 per hour, though there may be less chance of catching a "fireball."

This story has been updated.

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