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Meteor the Size of a Car Lands in the Bay Area

A large meteor that was seen and heard in Fairfax and throughout the Bay Area apparently fell in the East Bay hills Wednesday night. It is not part of the Orionid shower, according to experts. Did you see it streak across the sky?

           
A large meteor streaked across the night sky Wednesday and apparently landed in hills in the East Bay near Martinez. It was seen and heard throughout the Bay Area, including in Marin. 

Did you see or hear it? Tell us about it in the comments. Post any photos you may have taken of it, too, and share it with others. 

Sky observers rushed to social media Wednesday night to report they had seen a bright fireball with hues of red and orange break up overhead shortly before 8 p.m., accompanied by a loud boom.

Jonathan Braidman, astronomy instructor at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center, said the meteor likely hit the Earth around the Martinez Hills and was roughly the size of a car when it broke up over the Bay Area.

Braidman said hikers may be able to find small pieces of the meteor, called meteorites once they land on Earth, in the hills north of Martinez.

The sound was so loud, some residents reported it shook their homes, making them think it may be an earthquake.

Meteors are hunks of rock and metal that have broken off from asteroids and fallen from space, breaking up as they enter Earth's atmosphere.

Braidman said meteors hit the upper layer of Earth's atmosphere traveling 25,000 mph or more, but the atmosphere slows them down and breaks them up so that when they hit the ground they are traveling between 200 and 400 mph.

Wednesday night's meteor appeared for about four or five seconds and was traveling fairly slow compared to some other meteors, indicating it was probably fairly large.

But the boom that residents heard was a sonic boom, caused by the falling object traveling faster than the speed of sound, and was probably moving at more than 1,000 mph, Braidman said.

Braidman said the meteor is not related to the Orionid meteor shower expected to peak over Saturday night and Sunday morning.

A meteor shower is actually not an accurate name for this weekend's phenomenon, Braidman said, and that the "shooting stars" that stargazers will see this weekend are in fact small pieces of comet.

The Orionid phenomenon is predictable because it occurs when Earth passes through the trail of Halley's Comet, but last night's meteor sighting is far less predictable, despite that as much as 15,000 tons of material falls from space each year.

"Even though this kind of thing happens often, it's pretty rare for people to see it," Braidman said.

He said that often such material may not fall in a populated area, potentially just falling into the middle of the ocean.

But stargazers can increase their chances of seeing a meteor or other astronomical phenomenon by going somewhere dark, away from city lights.

The Chabot Space and Science Center offers two free public star viewings weekly on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 7:30 p.m. In addition to this weekend's Orionid shower, viewers can also catch glimpses of Jupiter, the Moon and nebulae there.

The observatory is located at 10000 Skyline Blvd. in the Oakland Hills.

Sightings of tonight's meteor were reported throughout the Bay Area from Santa Cruz to San Jose, Oakland, Pacifica, Daly City, Sausalito, and even in Davis.

Did you see the meteor? Tell us about it in the comments. 

By Bay City News Service

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Annie October 19, 2012 at 04:56 AM
Yes, I heard it from Mill Valley. I was on computer wi window open. The scare in NYC that day prompted me to quickly turn on the tv and radio. Nothing, other than reports from Santa Cruz area of a streaking object in the sky. My husband was flying into OAK at that time, so thought of him also. Bay Area got lucky! At 1,000 mph there could have been significant damage to a building or airplane.
Abigail Bellamy October 19, 2012 at 06:25 AM
I saw the Orionids last autumn and it was extremely memorable. For anyone interested, I found some great viewing information at this site: http://spacedex.com/orionids - Enjoy the show!
Peg Atherton October 19, 2012 at 07:01 PM
"was traveling fairly SLOW"??????? Good Grief! Adverbs are taught in second grade, for heaven's sake. Who allows this illiterate to write articles, and, worse, who approved this for print?
Marindependent October 22, 2012 at 10:26 PM
wow
Strake Davis January 21, 2013 at 10:36 PM
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