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Here's the Likely Explanation for That 'Mystery' Flash Across the Western United States


“I saw this big, greenish flash..."

Several cities in California saw reports of the bright flash in the sky, in addition to a few other western states. (Image source: KCAL-TV video screenshot)

Originally published at 12:30 am; Updated at 8:30 am.

Residents across California reported seeing a "mystery" flash in the sky Wednesday night.

Some speculated the "bright flash" was a meteor associated with the Taurid meteor shower, which peaked Tuesday night with the potential for spotting fiery space rocks continuing through November 12.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/NWSLosAngeles/status/398307743380934657"]

"I saw it while I was driving," KNSD-TV viewer AnnMarie told the station on Twitter. "I thought it was a firework!"

meteor What was likely a meteor was filmed on a security camera in California Wednesday night. (Image source: KCAL-TV video screenshot)

"I saw the meteor. It was huge and broke into three large pieces," another viewer named only as Jonathan told KNSD.

Sightings were reported in Temecula, San Diego, Brea, Malibu, Pomona, Chino and Los Angeles. KCAL-TV added sightings also occurred in Arizona, Utah and Las Vegas.

meteor Several cities in California saw reports of the bright flash in the sky, in addition to a few other western states. (Image source: KCAL-TV video screenshot)

Check out this brief Vine video showing a clip of the flash from a KCAL-TV report:

“I saw this big, greenish flash like, light up the sky,” Matthew Isaacs told KCAL of what he spotted while driving on the 73 Toll Road. “It was headed pretty sideways from like, east to west. I thought, ‘Is that a firework?’ And then I realized, that couldn’t be that big. It’s just in the middle of nowhere in a totally dark area where there’s no houses or anything where anyone would shoot fireworks. I thought, ‘Man, it must have been a meteor.’"

There's more footage and witness accounts of the fireball captured on a security camera in this KCAL report:

This grainy video taken near what appears to be an athletic field shows a bright ball streaking through the sky:

Meteoroids leaving space and entering Earth's atmosphere are not uncommon. Sightings occur when larger meteors are burning as they fall to the ground, often disintegrating before ever hitting. Occasionally, unusually large meteors cause actual damage, like that which hit in Chelyabinsk, Russia, earlier this year.

Scientists say such damaging meteor events could become more common.

Meteors about the size of the one that streaked through the sky at 42,000 mph and burst over Chelyabinsk in February — and ones even larger and more dangerous — are probably four to five times more likely to hit the planet than scientists believed before the fireball, according to three studies published Wednesday in the journals Nature and Science.

Until Chelyabinsk, NASA had looked only for space rocks about 100 feet wide and bigger, figuring there was little danger below that.

This meteor was only 62 feet wide but burst with the force of about 40 Hiroshima-type atom bombs, scientists say. It released a shock wave that shattered thousands of windows and injured more than 1,600 people, and its flash was bright enough to temporarily blind 70 people and cause dozens of skin-peeling sunburns just after dawn in icy Russia.

Lindley Johnson, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object program, told The Associated Press that the space agency is reassessing what size space rocks to look for and how often they are likely to hit.

By readjusting for how often these rocks strike and how even small ones can be a threat, "those two things together can increase the risk by an order of magnitude," said Mark Boslough, a Sandia National Lab physicist, co-author of one the studies.

TheBlaze's Jason Howerton and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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