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Multicolored fireball in sky dazzles Southwest

/ Source: NBC, and news services

A brilliant bright light seen streaking over the Southwestern sky Wednesday night was most likely a fragment of an asteroid that entered Earth's atmosphere, a NASA scientist said.

Residents from Phoenix to Las Vegas to Southern California's coastal areas reported to local authorities and media outlets that they saw the light move quickly from west to east at around 7:45 p.m. PT (10:45 p.m. ET). Experts said a fireball — or very bright meteor — was likely to blame.

"I saw something that looked like a falling star but it must have been a fireball in the atmosphere," one witness told NBCLA. "It was huge. It had a green glow in front of it and a white tail. It looked like green fireworks going across the sky."

While many witnesses reported the light as bluish-green others said it appeared yellow and orange.

"We can't say 100 percent," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program, "but it's almost certain that the object was a fireball" or very bright meteor, "the size of a basketball or baseball that likely disintegrated before it hit the ground."

Experts said that a meteor is slower than a regular shooting star, and it's not unusual for it to appear to change colors.

'Interplanetary debris'
Ed Krupp, the director of the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, said witnesses were probably seeing "a piece of interplanetary debris" that "passed through the Earth's atmosphere and burned up."

The American Meteor Society reported that two known meteor showers are active this week, the Iota Cassiopeiids and the Epsilon Perseids, which peaked on September 12 and 10, respectively.

But the organization said that bright moonlight would obscure viewing for all but the brightest of heavenly fireballs this week.

The Federal Aviation Administration said they received many calls about the sky sightings. Initially, there were concerns that the fireball could have been an aircraft.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor confirmed that there were no aircraft incidents reported in the Western region.

The bluish-green color suggests the object had some magnesium or nickel in it, Yeomans said. Orange is usually an indication it's entering earth's atmosphere at several miles per second, a moderate rate of speed.

"They make an impressive show for such a small object," Yeomans said.

Yeomans said fireball events are much more rare than shooting stars, but they happen on a weekly basis somewhere on Earth, usually over the ocean.

"It's a natural phenomenon and nothing to be concerned about," Yeomans said.

'We all made our wishes'
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office fielded more than a dozen calls about the sightings on Wednesday, and sheriff's deputies at Deer Valley Airport in north Phoenix reported a sighting themselves, Lieutenant Justin Griffin said.

"It took an unusually long time to get across the sky," Griffin told Reuters. "It's like a meteor. It's not like we had any flying objects with little green men or anything like that."

Sergeant Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said that his agency received four calls "regarding the light in the sky," adding that "myself and other officers observed it as well."

"We all made our wishes and went back to work. Nothing more to report. Have a safe night," he added.