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Brilliant fireball lights up night sky after SpaceX Crew-3 astronaut launch

A bright fireball streaked across the sky over the eastern U.S. yesterday (Nov. 10), shortly after the liftoff of SpaceX's Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station.

The American Meteor Society (AMS) has reported nearly 400 sightings of the fireball to date, with some witnesses being able to observe simultaneously the fireball and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket trail. Most observations came from North Carolina, but some reports also arrived from Washington, D.C., Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, the AMS said in a statement. 

The fireball brightened up the sky at 9:12 p.m. EST (0212 GMT on Nov. 11), nine minutes after the Crew-3 liftoff. According to the AMS, the meteor was part of the Taurid meteor shower, which occurs every year between September and November when Earth passes through a broad stream of debris in the wake of Comet Encke

Related: Taurid meteor shower: Winter fireballs

A bright fireball from the Taurid meteor shower lights up the night sky over Grasonville, Maryland in this photo captured by skywatcher Alex M., who reported it to the American Meteor Society. (Image credit: Alex M. via American Meteor Society)

The meteor was visible for only about 3.5 seconds. Data from a NASA fireball camera in western North Carolina suggest that the rock had a mass of about 45 pounds (20 kilograms) and was about 10 inches (25 centimeters) wide. It broke apart at the altitude of 28 miles (45 kilometers), as it passed above Macclesfield, a tiny village in North Carolina, travelling in the northwestern direction at about 33,000 mph (53,000 kph), AMS said in the statement. 

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Every day, several thousand meteors burn up in Earth's atmosphere, AMS said. Most of them, however, go undetected as they come in above the oceans or during daylight hours. 

The brighter the fireballs, the rarer they are. AMS said that a fireball of visual magnitude -6 could be detected every 200 hours of observation, while a -4 magnitude fireball can be expected about once every 20 hours or so. 

The lower the magnitude number, the brighter the object. For example, the sun has a magnitude of -27. 

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Tereza Pultarova

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.