'What is that in the sky?' Witnesses see rare fireball explode over Florida

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Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post
·3 min read
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Skies over Florida from Jacksonville to Miami were lit by a rare type of fireball late Monday that prompted calls to the National Weather Service and nearly 200 reports to the American Meteor Society.

Mike Hankey, the operations manager for the American Meteor Society, said the fireball is technically a "bolide" because it blows up after entering Earth's atmosphere.

"This is a special type of fireball that ends with a large burst of light and often a boom," Hankey said.

Some social media users reported hearing a sonic boom.

CBS12 reporter Jay O'Brien said he captured video of the streak across the sky while on Facebook Live.

"Oh my gosh what is that in the sky?" a voice says in the video O'Brien posted to Twitter.

Also: Social media lights up with sightings of fireball across Florida: Check your security cameras

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Hankey said that based on the speed and characteristics of the fireball, it was probably a piece of an asteroid, but whether it was a piece of the the recently recognized 2021 GW4 is in question.

An asteroid is composed of rock, iron or icy debris and is usually considered inactive as far as not shedding pieces of itself. A comet is a cauldron of gas, dust, ice and rock that has a glowing head and tail and leaves a trail of debris in its wake.

The small space rock 2021 GW4 passed at an "exceptionally close" 12,430 miles from Earth's surface Monday morning, according to Gianluca Masi of VirtualTelescope.eu.

In comparison, geostationary satellites orbit about 22,000 miles above Earth. Asteroid 2021 GW4 was discovered on April 8 by the Catalina Sky Survey telescope at Mount Lemmon, Arizona.

Asteroids are larger than 3.2 feet in diameter; anything smaller would be a meteoroid and could come from a comet or asteroid. Hankey said asteroids and their fragments tend to be slower than comets and the events last longer.

"This was a nice chunk but I doubt it was anywhere near (3.2 feet)," Hankey said. "More likely it was in the softball to basketball range."

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People in Florida and the Bahamas reported seeing a fireball Monday, April 12, 2021. Still image taken from video provided by Israel Torres.
People in Florida and the Bahamas reported seeing a fireball Monday, April 12, 2021. Still image taken from video provided by Israel Torres.
People in Florida and the Bahamas reported seeing a fireball Monday, April 12, 2021. Still image taken from video provided by Adam Berluti.
People in Florida and the Bahamas reported seeing a fireball Monday, April 12, 2021. Still image taken from video provided by Adam Berluti.

The fireball was a rare treat amid a dearth of sky shows. The last notable meteor shower was the Quadrantids in early January. The Lyrids meteor shower is expected to begin on about April 16 and last through April 25.

EarthSky.org said about 10 to 15 meteors an hour are possible at the peak of the shower before dawn on April 22, but that the Lyrids are know for surges that can send up to 100 meteors an hour into the atmosphere.

Follow reporter Kimberly Miller on Twitter: @Kmillerweather

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This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida residents report seeing fireball streak across sky: Video