Fireball Illuminates Skies Across East Coast of Florida

The asteroid fragment weighed 900 pounds and hit Earth’s atmosphere at 38,000 miles per hour

A gif of a meteor exploding over the Floridian night sky
The fireball cruising across the sky was most likely a fragment of an asteroid called a 'bolide'. Joseph Gresham

On late Monday night, Floridian skies were ignited by a massive fireball with a long, sparkling tail dashing across the sky, reports Jaclyn Diaz for NPR. The sight stunned residents and evoked various calls to the National Weather Service and over 200 reports to the American Meteor Society, reports Kimberly Miller for the Palm Beach Post. Many of the residents and some local news teams also captured the experience on dashcams, cell phones, or security cameras and later shared the footage to social media.

While lasting only seconds, the captured footage shows the gleaming fireball streak across the sky, followed by an explosive flash as the meteor disintegrated and ended its trek along Earth's atmosphere. By definition, a fireball is a meteor that is brighter than the planet Venus in the morning or evening sky. Several thousand fireballs fall to Earth every day. Most go unnoticed because they tend to swoop over the ocean or uninhabited locations, and other instances happen during the day when celestial phenomena can't be seen, explains the American Meteor Society.

The fireball cruising across the sky was most likely a fragment of an asteroid called a bolide, said operations manager Mike Hankey for the American Meteor Society to the Palm Beach Post. Bolides shine brightly and then explode soon after like a firework in the sky. They are the largest and brightest type of fireball meteor.

On the night of April 12, Earth expected a close visit from the asteroid 2021 GW4, and many debated online whether the fireball seen over Florida had to do with 2021 GW4, reports NPR. But, after further review of the fireball's trajectory and orbit, NASA astronomer Bill Cooke determined it was not 2021 GW4, reports the Palm Beach Post. The light show seen over Florida was caused by a 900-pound bolide that hit Earth's atmosphere at 50 degrees going 38,000 miles per hour and generated enough energy to equal 14 tons of dynamite when it exploded 23 miles above the Atlantic ocean, Cooke tells the Palm Beach Post.

"This is a special type of fireball that ends with a large burst of light and often a boom sound," Hankey tells the Palm Beach Post.

The bolide was so bright that the Geostationary Lightning Mapper of the National Weather Service Tampa Bay caught the meteor as it moved along Florida's coast and shared the photo to Twitter, Nicoletta Lanese for Live Science reports. The American Meteor Society also used Twitter to ask anyone who captured the rare moment to report it online.