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Meteor Crashes into Hills Near Martinez

Seen and heard throughout the Bay Area, a meteor the size of a car apparently fell in the hills north of the city Wednesday night.

By Bay City News Service
           
A meteor streaked across the night sky Wednesday and apparently landed near the East Bay city of Martinez. It was seen and heard throughout the Bay Area, according to several news reports and social media posts.

Did you see or hear it? Tell us about it in the comments. Post any photos you may have taken of it, too, and share it with others. 

Sky observers took to social media — including on Novato Patch's Facebook page — to report that they had seen a bright fireball with hues of red and orange break up overhead shortly before 8 p.m., accompanied by a loud boom.

Jonathan Braidman, astronomy instructor at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center, said the meteor likely hit the Earth around the Martinez hills and was roughly the size of a car when it broke up over the Bay Area.

Braidman said that hikers may be able to find small pieces of the meteor, called meteorites once they land on Earth.

The sound was so loud, some residents reported it shook their homes, making them think it may be an earthquake.

Meteors are hunks of rock and metal that have broken off from asteroids and fallen from space, breaking up as they enter Earth's atmosphere.

Braidman said that the meteors hit the upper layer of Earth's atmosphere traveling 25,000 mph or more, but the atmosphere slows them down and breaks them up so that when they hit the ground they are only traveling between 200 and 400 mph.

The meteor appeared for about four or five seconds and was traveling fairly slow compared to some other meteors, indicating it was probably fairly large.

But the boom that residents heard was a sonic boom, caused by the falling object traveling faster than the speed of sound, and was probably moving at over 1,000 mph, Braidman said.

Braidman said that the meteor is not at all related to the Orionid meteor shower expected to peak over Saturday night and Sunday morning.

A meteor shower is actually not an accurate name for this weekend's phenomenon, Braidman said, and that the "shooting stars" that stargazers will see this weekend are in fact small pieces of comet.

The Orionid phenomenon is predictable because it occurs when Earth passes through the trail of Halley's Comet, but tonight's meteor sighting is far less predictable, despite that as much as 15,000 tons of material falls from space each year.

"Even though this kind of thing happens often, it's pretty rare for people to see it," Braidman said.

He said that often such material may not fall in a populated area, potentially just falling into the middle of the ocean.

But stargazers can increase their chances of seeing a meteor or other astronomical phenomenon by going somewhere dark, away from city lights.

The Chabot Space and Science Center offers two free public star viewings weekly on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 7:30 p.m. In addition to this weekend's Orionid shower, viewers can also catch glimpses of Jupiter, the Moon and nebulae there.

The observatory is located at 10000 Skyline Blvd. in the Oakland Hills.

Did you see the meteor? Tell us about it in the comments. 

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Judith Reilly October 19, 2012 at 12:11 AM
I saw it ,but did not hear it ,in Los Osos, CA - about 200 miles away. Wow!
Tony Elshout October 19, 2012 at 04:59 PM
We did not see the meteor but heard the sonic boom. We thought it was a clap of thunder which we thought odd as it was not raining
Trish michelle October 22, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I now vaguely recall thinking it was thunder or a car in a crash if in fact i heard this - i do recall it was out of the blue when i heard the awkward sound- i looked off the balcony saw nothing and just passed it off as normal occurence of God knows what and carried on hahahahah

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