Apparently the bright object that people reported seeing shooting over the East Coast of the United States last night -- and that left a glittery trail across Twitter -- may well have been a meteor.
Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environmental Office told the Associated Press that, "going on visual reports," the flash was "a single meteor event."
"The thing is probably a yard across. We basically have (had) a boulder enter the atmosphere over the northeast," he added.
The object lit up Twitter last night at about 8 p.m. East Coast time, with numerous people registering their surprise and excitement. And of course, a bogus photo or two appeared as well, triggering hasty retweets and retractions, as well as at least one amusing parody shot featuring an astro cat.
The American Meteor Society received more than 600 reported sightings, from North Carolina on up to Canada, and posted a heat map showing their concentration. And apparent security-camera footage of the event popped up on YouTube and was published in the media.
A news editor with the AP saw the object while standing in line for a concert in Philadelphia and said "you could tell it was burning, with the trail that it left behind." And Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, told the AP that the object was probably a single meteor, about the size of a softball or volleyball, that fell fairly far down into the Earth's atmosphere.
Space rocks have of course been on people's minds for the last little while, with the meteor strike in Russia causing concern, and several asteroids passing relatively close to Earth. A NASA administrator was also recently asked by a congressional committee what America would do if a meteor similar to the one that hit Russia was found to be on a path toward New York, with impact three weeks away. His reply? "The answer to you is, if it's coming in three weeks, pray."
Pitts said, however, that meteors of different sizes are always falling. And at least one estimate says that the odds of being killed by an asteroid impact in a given year are 1 in 74,817,414.
Here's the purported security camera footage (from two different cameras) of last night's bright object: