That bright, burning streak across the sky you may have seen early Thursday morning was a fireball-a name scientist give for very bright meteors that burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Meteors, or shooting stars, are common. They occur frequently, especially during periodic meteor showers that happen every year. The one that brought a great display above the Lowcountry around 6:45 Thursday morning was less common as fireballs are brighter, with the given descriptor as “bright or brighter than Venus” – Venus being the second brightest object in the night sky behind the moon.
Fireballs can also create sounds as it breaks the sound barrier- but there have been no reports of any with this event.
Despite meteor being a part of “meteorologist” we don’t study meteors. We leave that to others in the American Meteor Society.
They gather and log reports of these fireballs to better understand each event. If you happened to catch this fireball Thursday morning, you can report it to them via their website amsmeteors.org. You’ll join over 375 other observers who reported this astronomical event from the Carolinas, as far north as Virginia, and as far south as Florida.
From these reports, a preliminary analysis of its trajectory has been established- beginning between Columbia and Charlotte and ending near Wilmington before 7 AM.
It is very unlikely that this fireball was big or dense enough to survive the descent to the surface, where it would be known as a meteorite. So don’t go hunting for any space rocks, as you’ll be disappointed… both because you won’t find any and the fact that this might just be space junk breaking up and burning up as it falls through Earth’s atmosphere.
Didn’t catch it? Don’t be sad, as the American Meteor Society states, “Several thousand meteors of fireball magnitude occur in the Earth’s atmosphere each day. The vast majority of these, however, occur over the oceans and uninhabited regions, and a good many are masked by daylight.”
So continue to keep an eye on the skies, as you never know what you may see.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson