Just before 7:45 P.M. Pacific time yesterday, as baseball fans in the San Francisco Bay Area were tuning in to the playoff game between the hometown Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, a different spectacle was playing out overhead.
A huge fireball lit up the skies over Northern California, and witnesses also heard very loud thumps that “sounded like distant artillery fire or sonic booms,” according to one of about 150 witnesses who reported a sighting to the American Meteor Society (AMS).
Earth is now heading into the peak of the Orionid meteor shower, caused by the debris trail from Halley’s Comet, but the October 17 meteor more closely resembled a piece of an asteroid than a chunk of comet, according to a post on the AMS Web site.
A security camera at Lick Observatory atop California’s Mount Hamilton caught the fireball on tape, streaking from left to right over the city lights of San Jose. As it happens, Lick is also home to one of the Cameras for All-Sky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS), an automated sky-watching network with several Northern California monitoring stations. “We are checking our CAMS camera results to see if we have a track,” an update on the CAMS Web site says. “Biggest question at the moment is whether this ended over land or ocean.” A meteor’s breakup over dry land leaves open the possibility of recovering samples for study, which can provide important information about the meteor’s origins.