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Fireball Complete With Sonic Boom Captured Streaking Across Calif. Sky


"...looked like a plane crash or rocket."

In this photo taken Oct. 17, 2012 and provided by Phil Terzian is a shooting star above the Montebello Open Space Preserve in Palo Alto, Calif. Streaking fireballs lighting up California skies and stunning stargazers are part of a major meteor shower, and the show is just getting started. (Photo: AP/Phil Terzian)

SAN FRANCISCO (TheBlaze/AP) -- A streaking fireball lit up California skies and stunned stargazers Wednesday night, and professional observers continue looking upward at the night sky as more meteors are on the way this weekend.

The exploding streak was visible over the San Francisco Bay area and other parts of Northern California, and there were also reports of a loud boom.

"It looked like a plane crash or rocket," said Philip Terzian, an amateur astronomer who happened to photograph the meteor while atop a ridge around Palo Alto.

(Image: AP video screenshot)

Terzian had gathered there with a group of other astronomy enthusiasts. The group had not met in some time and just happened to be there for the meteor.

"It was a `Holy Cow!' moment," he told The Associated Press.

Watch footage of the fireball over Oakland, Calif.:

Other observers described the streak as crescent shaped, and reddish orange in color.

The sound people reported could have been a sonic boom from the meteor traveling faster than the speed of sound, said Jonathan Braidman, an astronomy instructor with the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland.

"It's like a jet fighter," he said.

Braidman said the meteor was likely metal and rock from the asteroid belt. Astronomers at the center estimated its size as that of a car. Space.com reported meteor expert Peter Jenniskens with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute saying the "biggest question at the moment is whether this ended over land or ocean." Braidman said it probably broke into much smaller pieces before hitting the ground and then scattered over hundreds of miles.

Wednesday's light streak comes as astronomers expect a more dramatic light display this weekend that is part of the large, fast Orionid meteor shower, so-named because it has the Orion constellation as a backdrop. The Orion meteors are space debris from Halley's Comet, and they become visible as the earth crosses through their trail, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Braidman said he does not think Wednesday's meteor and this weekend's Orionid shower are connected.

The shower's peak is supposed to be Saturday night and Sunday morning. The timing is fitting, because Oct. 20 is Astronomy Day, according to Space.com.

If you're not around or if poor weather is hampering your view of the meteor shower, Space.com reported the Slooh Space Camera will begin airing 11 hours of "free cosmic programming" at 3:30 p.m. (EST) here.

If you end up taking any video or pictures of the meteor shower this weekend that you care to share, email them to lklimas@theblaze.com.


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