Hundreds of people across the Northeast, including dozens in Maine, reported seeing a large fireball streak across the winter sky Monday night.

The American Meteor Society, a nonprofit that catalogs meteor sightings, has received more than 330 reports of a “bright fireball” that was seen at 6:35 p.m. Monday from Maryland to Maine. A map of the reports compiled by the organization shows that the heaviest concentrations came from southern Maine, eastern Massachusetts and the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. The site lists nearly 60 separate entries from Maine.

You can see the reports and the map on the American Meteor Society website.

Witnesses in Maine described a bright, greenish light that lasted several seconds as it streaked low on the southern horizon. Several people said the meteor appeared to break up before disappearing. Zac Lounsbury of Kennebunk was among the Mainers who saw the fireball but weren’t sure exactly what they were watching at the time.

“I was returning from a shopping trip in Freeport and driving south on 295 when I saw a slow-moving bright light start flying over my head from the left across the highway to the right at almost the same trajectory and pace a landing airplane would have,” Lounsbury wrote in an email. Being so close to the Portland International Jetport, Lounsbury feared he was watching a plane going down and was relieved when he didn’t hear a crash. “The light just disappeared behind some trees and that was that. Glad it was just a meteor!”

Fireballs are extra-bright meteors caused when chunks of space debris – known as meteoroids while in space – burn up while entering the Earth’s atmosphere. A fireball that explodes is known as a “bolide” and a meteoroid that survives its fiery trip through the atmosphere becomes a meteorite when it hits the Earth’s surface.


Mike Hankey, a volunteer from Baltimore who is operations manager for the American Meteor Society, said the organization receives reports of fireballs every day, but that bright fireballs reported by large numbers of people are less common.

“To get reports from 300-plus people puts it in the top 10 of the year,” Hankey said of Monday’s event.

Edward Gleason, manager of the Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine, said the planetarium often receives calls or emails whenever a fireball appears in the Maine skies and Monday’s event was no different.

“Fireballs can be spectacular – far brighter than the stars and the planets and sometimes even brighter than the moon,” Gleason said.

Sam Stone of Porter was in Scarborough when he saw the flash.

“It was in the southern sky when I caught it out of the corner of my eye,” Stone said. “It lasted a brief time until it appeared to break up. It looked like it landed someplace across the turnpike. It was very low in the sky.”

Gleason noted that the Earth is currently passing through the debris field that produces the Quadrantid meteor shower and more meteor activity could be visible in the coming days.

This year’s Quadrantid meteor shower is not expected to be a show-stopper because it coincides with a nearly full moon. But the peak for the shower is expected to occur between late-night Saturday and pre-dawn Sunday. Those interested in attempting to watch the peak shower should find a dark spot and look to the north and northeast.


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