The streaking ball of fire Friday night above the East Coast did not, for now at least, signal the end to civilization as we know it.
Though you might get that sense from social media.
The sky lit up along the U.S. eastern seaboard with reports of “a thin streak of blue-greenish-white” from people like Chip Guy, who was driving in eastern Maryland when he and his family he spotted it.
“It didn’t last more than eight or nine seconds, then it disappeared,” said Guy, a spokesman for Sussex County, Delaware. “Frankly, I didn’t think too much of it.”
But his tune changed once he posted something about the presumed meteor on a local social media webpage, which triggered a quick and hearty response.
That was just the tip of the online iceberg. Through Friday night, new reports of meteor sightings appeared every few seconds on Twitter, some of them from the metropolises of New York City and Washington.
“OMG I saw a real meteor in the Brooklyn’s sky,” wrote one person on Twitter, with the handle Curious Sergey. “It’s all over the news now! I thought it is some kind of firework…”
The Federal Aviation Administration fielded calls about a meteor from Virginia to Maine, said agency spokeswoman Arlene Salac.
So what exactly was it?
Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for NORAD, said his agency heard about the sightings, too, and can confirm it was not from anything man-made, like a plane or falling satellite.
It may be a meteor, which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory defines as “light phenomena” from a meteoroid — which is itself a comet or asteroid orbiting the sun — that “enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes.”
A meteoroid that gets through the atmosphere and hits the Earth is a meteorite. And then there are asteroids, which JPL describes as “a relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the sun” often in what are called asteroid belts.
As anyone who has seen a shooting star can attest, such otherworldly objects do enter the Earth’s atmosphere. And some of them do strike the Earth, though they tend to be small when they do and strike unpopulated areas on land or plunge into the world’s oceans.
There are exceptions, like the massive asteroid that many experts believe killed off dinosaurs. More recently, a meteor exploded over the steppes of southwestern Russia on February 15, a blast that scientists at Canada’s University of Western Ontario estimated had the energy of about 30 early nuclear bombs.
The related flash and boom shattered glass in buildings and left about 1,000 people hurt, authorities said.
There were no confirmed reports Friday night that the greenish streak spotted by so many actually impacted anywhere.
Even if it didn’t, the mere possibility was enough to send chills down some stargazers’ spines.
“Seriously, after that massive meteor in california a few weeks ago, the one that hit russia, and now this hugee one tonight,” wrote a Twitter user by the name of Olivia, referring to the Russia incident and a mass shooting star sighting on the West Coast last night. “Little scaryy.”