Dozens of people in eastern and central Iowa report seeing a bright streak of light blaze across the evening sky last night, just after sunset. Some describe it as a “fireball.”
Jeff Johnson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, says they got several calls about it. “We did get reports of a meteor crashing into the atmosphere here shortly before 6 P.M.,” Johnson says. “All we know about it is that it was a meteor and it burned up in the atmosphere. We have not heard of it, or any piece of it, hitting the ground or anything like that. It was, I guess, pretty much worth seeing.”
If you get away from city lights and look up at the night sky, you don’t usually have to watch for too long to see a “shooting star” carve a path across the heavens. Johnson says a combination of factors made last night’s event a little more special. “It was probably the time of day — shortly before six, in the wintertime,” Johnson says. “It was a clear night last night, there was good visibility — you could see a lot of things.”
Back in February, a meteor exploded in the sky over Russia, causing a shockwave that blew out hundreds of windows and injured several hundred people. That was a very rare event, while Johnson says last night’s brief sky show over Iowa was more the garden variety. “Meteors are pretty common,” Johnson says. “They’re simply pieces of extraterrestrial rock, basically, traveling through space that hit the atmosphere and due to friction, they burn up. In this case, it did it right over the top of us.”
One report estimates as many as 84,000 meteorites reach the Earth’s atmosphere every year, but most of them are so small, they are completely incinerated before they reach the ground.