Video from Phoenix City Hall shows a bright light flashing across the Phoenix skyline. Video credit: City of Phoenix
Astronomers say the bright light that streaked across the night sky Tuesday was “almost certainly” a meteor.
The city of Phoenix captured the illumination on one of its observation cameras and posted it to Twitter.
In the video, a large, glowing bulb appears in the top-right frame and then fades out in three seconds. A smaller light can be seen in the lower portion of the frame, off in the horizon.
It happened around 8:30 p.m.
— LRC (@LRonanC) November 15, 2017
The American Meteor Society received 110 fireball reports from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah on Tuesday.
“Given the speed and everything, this was almost certainly a meteor rather than a piece of space junk,” said Laurence Garvie, curator of Arizona State University’s Center for Meteorite Studies.
Specifically, the meteor was a “bolide” — a type of fireball that explodes in a bright terminal flash, according to the American Meteor Society.
“This thing wasn’t huge. I’m going to guess about 5 feet across. It broke up quite quickly,” Garvie said.
Nick Moskovitz, an astronomer with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, agreed that the meteor was rather small, despite the immense glow.
“The meteor is probably larger than a marble and smaller than a human,” Moskovitz said. “Around a football size.”
The meteor is believed to have left debris between Flagstaff and Phoenix east of Interstate 17, Moskovitz said.
Chance to see more meteors
Garvie said the meteor wasn’t related to the Leonids meteor shower, an annual event that peaks this year on Friday night.
“It’s just coincidental,” he said, adding that meteors spotted during showers are tiny by comparison, the size of a grain of sand.
A moonless sky Friday should make for good viewing of the Leonids meteor shower this year. But it’s not an especially plentiful shower. NASA predicts no more than 10 meteors an hour, and some will be faint, so you won’t be able to see them all.
Some viewing tips from astronomers at ASU and the University of Arizona:
- You don’t need to focus your eyes on one specific area — meteors occur throughout the sky.
- Shower activity is the greatest after midnight.
- Get away from city lights, if you can. If you can’t leave the city, find the darkest spot in your yard away from the glare of street- and house lights.
- You don’t need binoculars or a telescope. Using these devices can actually reduce the number of meteors you see because they focus on only part of the sky.
- Be patient. Plan to spend at least an hour outside if you want to spot meteors.