March 23, 2013 at 7:42 PM ET
A Friday night flash of light in the skies over the East Coast sparked a rash of meteor sighting reports, followed by a mad dash to track down photos and videos of the event.
The American Meteor Society logged more than 800 reports from a region ranging from North Carolina to Washington to New York to New England to Canada. Hundreds more registered their observations on Twitter. One Twitter user, known as @Married2TheNite, reported from New Jersey that he saw — and heard — the object pass by. "It was making almost a hissing noise as it flew brightly overhead," he wrote. "I saw it around 7:55 p.m. EDT."
That time frame meshed with the many other reports. Some witnesses said they saw flashes of green, red and blue as the object streaked past.
The reports were consistent with a fireball — similar to the one that flashed over Russia on Feb. 15, but much, much smaller.
"It's not an incredibly rare event, but it is very unusual to have that many people observe it, and also it was unusually bright," Ron Dantowitz, director of the Clay Center Observatory, told NBC station WHDH-TV in Boston. "These types of meteors happen once or twice a year. The unusual thing is that it was so well observed not so long after sunset."
Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environmental Office told The Associated Press that the flash appeared to be "a fireball that moved roughly toward the southeast, going on visual reports."
"Judging from the brightness, we're dealing with something as bright as the full moon," Cooke said. "The thing is probably a yard across. We basically have (had) a boulder enter the atmosphere over the Northeast."
For a while, Twitter buzzed with tweets and retweets highlighting pictures that falselypurported to show the Friday night light — but eventually, bona fide views surfaced. The paucity of honest-to-goodness meteor shots contrasted with the wealth of dashboard videos that came to light after last month's Russian meteor blast.
"The meteor has taught us one thing tonight," Cara Lynch tweeted, "the East Coast needs more dash cameras."
One of the most widely distributed videos of Friday night's flash came from someone who didn't actually see it when it happened. "I wish I would have seen it for real," said Kim Fox, a first-grade teacher from Thurmont, Md.
Fox told NBC News that she checked her security-camera system after hearing about the meteor. At around the time that news reports said the meteor was widely sighted, she saw a bright flash on one of the camera views. She took out her mobile phone, recorded a video of the video, and posted it to her Facebook page. From there, the video went viral on the Web and on TV newscasts.
"The phones have been ringing all night," Fox said.
Did you see the flash? Add your sighting report to the American Meteor Society's log, and tell me about it in the comment space below. Got pictures? Feel free to post them to the Cosmic Log Facebook page.
Update for 3:44 p.m. ET March 23: In one reference, I mistakenly placed Thurmont in New Jersey rather than Maryland. And it's WHDH, not WDHD. Sorry about that! Also, more video views of the flash have come in. Hopkins Automotive Group posted this flashy security camera video on its Facebook page. There's also this dashcam view from WUSA9 photojournalist Kurt Brooks.
More about meteors:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.