Fireball sighted over Pacific Northwest

/ Source: The Associated Press

A fireball streaked through the night sky across the western half of the Pacific Northwest on Saturday, startling people all the way from southern Oregon to the Seattle area.

Scientists said the fireball was probably a meteor, and that it likely disintegrated just before any fragments fell into the Pacific Ocean.

Summer Jensen of Portland said she was sitting in her living room with her father when she saw the flash of light outside and rushed to see what it was.

"It was like a big ball of fire," and "behind it was a trail of blue," she said.

"I've never seen anything like that," Jensen said, adding that the object appeared to be moving slowly.

Michael O'Connor, a duty officer at the Federal Aviation Administration's regional office in Renton, Wash., said he fielded "a whole ton of calls" from people reporting they had seen a bright streak across the sky shortly before 8 p.m. PT (11 p.m. ET).

He said police, pilots and some air traffic controllers described it as "a green ball of fire with a long tail."

O'Connor said reports came from as far east as the Tri-Cities area in Washington.

"It appears to have come down over the ocean," said Dick Pugh, with the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory in Portland.

He said the object flew over the Pacific Coast, streaking along from south to north.

Melinda Hutson, another expert at the lab, said meteors large enough to turn into fireballs are uncommon.

To get a fireball, it has to be "a big piece of rock or metal — most are pieces of asteroids. Once every once in a while a piece of the moon or Mars breaks off," she said.

Astronomer Jim Todd, planetarium director at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, said that if the meteor had entered the atmosphere during the daytime, it may not even have be noticed.

"It creates a bright contrast against the night sky," Todd said.

Last year, a meteor that appeared like a fireball was sighted over western Washington state. In March 2003, residents in four Midwestern states also reported seeing a disintegrating meteorite flash across the sky.