A number of citizens in North Port, Florida, might have watched one too many UFO invasion movies. As a giant fireball lit up the state’s west coast on Monday evening, the North Port Police Department stated that they received a handful of calls from concerned residents in the area, asking if a UFO invasion was happening. Fortunately, the giant fireball was simply a meteorite hurtling towards Earth.
The incident, which momentarily turned the Florida night sky bright as day, was seen by numerous residents. According to the American Meteor Society, around 150 residents, residing from Key West to the south of the Florida Panhandle, called the firm to report the incident. Considering the brightness of the fireball as it hurtled towards Earth, however, it was not surprising that a handful of citizens initially thought it might be something sinister.
The incident was captured in a couple of dashcam footages, with one coming from the North Port Police Department themselves. The NPPD uploaded the dashcam footage on their official Facebook page, lightheartedly joking about the possibility of an alien invasion as they closed the uploaded video with the words, “At least we know that we come in peace.”
The NPPD’s video, which currently has 82k views, has started some light-hearted banter among those commenting on the video. According to some commenters, however, those who called first about the incident were told that the cause of the flash might be a transformer exploding in the area. According to the New Port Police Department, however, even the officer who initially thought the flash was an exploding transformer quickly changed his mind when he saw the dashcam footage.
NASA’s Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, has issued an official statement about the incident, stating that the giant fireball spotted in Florida was simply a baseball-sized meteorite. The object, which entered the Earth’s atmosphere at about 11:18 p.m. on Monday, moved at a staggering speed of 40,000 miles per hour, causing it to burst into flames as it descended to the ground.
NASA further stated that the small meteor experienced rapid evaporation of frozen water and carbon dioxide during re-entry, giving the celestial object its extremely bright appearance. The space agency further stated that the space rock has been classified as a bolide, an extremely bright meteor that explodes and disintegrates during atmospheric re-entry.
“The meteor began 46 miles above the Gulf of Mexico and 8 miles from Sarasota. It traveled northwest, before disintegrating at the altitude of 15 miles,” said Bill Cooke, manager of the Meteoroid Environments Office, according to RT News.
The giant fireball on Monday might have caused some panic among North Point residents, but meteors falling to the Earth are actually not that rare. Every year, the Earth experiences thousands of meteors entering the atmosphere. Unlike the recent Florida incident, however, most of these meteors are not as bright, and they burn up before being visible.
As much as bolides are very fascinating to watch, some of them actually have some inherent dangers attached to them. Back in 2013, an extremely bright meteor, later classified as a superbolide, entered the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over the Chelyabinsk region in Russia. The superbolide, which had an estimated mass of 12,000 to 13,000 metric tons, ultimately broke apart 18.4 miles above the ground, causing an explosion with as much kinetic energy as 29 atomic bombs. While there were no casualties from the incident, over 1,400 people were injured and 7,200 buildings in the area were damaged.
On Monday, at least, Florida residents were treated to a celestial event that, despite inciting some UFO invasion fears, ultimately proved to be harmless.
[Featured Image by Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock]