A space rock slammed into Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday night (March 7), putting on a brief but brilliant sky show, according to media reports.
The fireball and associated boom were caused by an object about the size of a minivan. It streaked over Washington and eventually fell, in smoldering bits and broken-up pieces, into the Pacific Ocean about 14 miles (22 kilometers) off the state's coast, NASA meteor expert Marc Fries told Seattle TV station Q13 Fox.
And there were a lot of those pieces raining down.
"It's really dramatic in the radar imagery, to the point that this is probably the biggest meteorite fall I've seen in the continental U.S. in the past 20 years," Fries, who's based at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, told Q13 Fox.
Hundreds of people reported seeing the fireball Wednesday night, Q13 Fox said. And scientists picked up readings of the event, using seismographs and satellites, from as far away as the Canadian province of Manitoba.
Technically, any meteor that blazes more brightly than Venus in the sky is a fireball. Wednesday's meteor was an uber-fireball, a superluminous type known as a bolide, Fries said.
Space rocks are responsible for most of the fireballs we see, but not all of them; sometimes the burning-up object was made by human hands. The dazzling meteor that lit up skies over the Western U.S. in July 2016, for instance, was caused by a 6-ton piece of a Chinese rocket that fell back to Earth.
And another big piece of Chinese hardware could put on a sky show soon. The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 space lab — which China used to help practice the docking and rendezvous maneuvers needed to build an orbiting space station — is scheduled to make an uncontrolled re-entry between March 24 and April 19, according to the latest estimates.
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