On Wednesday night, many Washington residents were greeted by a loud and unexpected sight: a big fireball that lit up the sky. Witnesses reported hearing a loud, booming sound; others reported shaking as the fireball whizzed through the sky. Officials were both surprised and confused by the sudden appearance, later reaching out to the FAA and other agencies in an effort to figure out what caused it.
Despite the disturbance, an investigation by local officials didn’t turn up any signs of an object or vehicle having crashed into the ground. The FAA later confirmed that there hadn’t been any aircraft or other known objects that may have caused the event, leading to speculation that a meteor may have been the source.
Officials with NASA’s Johnson Space Center have confirmed that a very large meteor known as a bolide is to blame. The space rock entered the Earth’s atmosphere where it burned up, putting on a nice show for residents as it flew over the state and out about 14 miles off the coast. A variety of equipment, including weather satellites and seismographs, were used to track the meteor.
The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network seismometers picked up the booming sound around 7PM local time, according to local news KING5. The American Meteor Society provides a map of the fireball’s estimated path across the sky, as well as the locations from which it received witness reports.
Witnesses say the fireball was spotted as far north as the Vancouver region and as far south as Portland. According to Johnson Space Center’s Dr. Marc Fries, this was one of the largest bolide meteors to make an appearance in the last two decades. The meteor is estimated to have been about the size a minivan when it entered the atmosphere, burning up so that by the time it hit the ocean, only a brick-sized chunk remained.