Massive Fireball Lights Up Wisconsin Sky
Moments before bursting in a dazzling fireball over southwestern Wisconsin, a likely meteor appears as a bright dot in the Wednesday night sky. This image was captured around 10:07 p.m., April 14 by a camera mounted on the northwest corner of the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison

A flash of light lit up the night sky when what was believed to be a space rock burst across southwestern Wisconsin on Wednesday, according to news reports.

An image captured by a camera mounted on the northwest corner of the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus shows the meteor as a bright dot moments before bursting into a spectacular fireball.

The photos were taken at around 10:07 p.m. on April 14. According to news reports, the burst illuminated clouds and the contrails of airplanes, which is the visible concentration of water droplets from the atmosphere that occur in the wake of an aircraft under select conditions.

The fireball was seen moving west to east, and was visible across northern Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, in addition to southern Wisconsin, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA also received several reports of a prolonged sonic boom from areas north of Highway 20, along with shaking homes, trees and various other objects. The fireball reportedly broke up into smaller pieces and was lost from sight well before it reached the horizon, and it is unknown whether any pieces of the object actually hit the ground.

It does not take a large object to create a fireball in the night sky. Most regular "shooting stars" are created by bits of comet debris no larger than a sand grain. A space rock the size of a softball or basketball can create a fireball.

Objects as big as washing machines fall into Earth's atmosphere on a monthly basis, but most burn up before reaching the ground. Many of the resulting fireballs are not seen because they occur over remote areas or over the ocean. Earth is more than two-thirds ocean.