Monday, April 23, 2012

Fireball rattles Nevada

MARTIN GRIFFITH/RENO, Nev. (AP) - A loud explosion heard across much of Nevada and California on Sunday morning rattled homes and prompted a flood of calls to law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Sierra Nevada, some reporting fireball sightings.

 The sound and the light show were likely caused by a meteor that entered Earth's atmosphere, astronomers said. "It made the shades in my room shake hard enough to slam into the window a couple times," said Nicole Carlsen of the Reno area. "I kept looking for earthquake information, but (there was) nothing.

 I even checked the front of my house to make sure no one ran into the garage. I wish I had seen the meteor." Erin Girard-Hudson of Arnold, Calif., told The Union Democrat of Sonora, Calif., that the loud boom that occurred around 8 a.m. made her 2-year-old daughter, Elsie, cry. "It knocked me off my feet and was shaking the house," she said. "It sounded like it was next door." No damages or injuries were immediately reported.

There were no reports of earthquakes at the time. Some people reported seeing a brilliant light streak across the sky at the same time. Sightings occurred over roughly a 600-mile line across the two states, including Reno, Elko and North Las Vegas in Nevada, and the San Francisco, Sacramento and Bakersfield areas in California. Astronomers said they believe the mysterious light was a fireball, which is a very bright meteor.

It will take time to determine the path of the fireball and where it broke up, they added. "From the reports, I have no doubt it was a fireball," said Robert Lunsford of the Geneseo, N.Y.-based American Meteor Society. "It happens all the time, but most are in daytime and are missed. This one was extraordinarily bright in the daylight." Lunsford said it's "pretty rare" for fireballs to produce a loud explosion. For that to happen, he explained, the meteor must have survived intact until breaking up about five miles above Earth. Most fireballs are visible at 50 miles above Earth.

 "If you hear a sonic boom or loud explosion, that's a good indication that some fragments may have reached the ground," Lunsford told The Associated Press. "We'll have to get some people to work on it to pinpoint where it broke up and see if anything can be found on the ground." Lunsford said more than 20 people in the two states had filed reports with his group by midmorning about seeing the fireball. "I have been looking at the sky for 30 years, and I have never witnessed something so amazing and puzzling. It is an event that makes you glad to be alive," said Matthew Neal of San Francisco. "The main body was bright green and the head was bright red and white."


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