Streaking light seen from San Diego to Phoenix
A real UFO streaked across the Coachella Valley’s skies Wednesday night, but by morning NASA scientists were fairly certain they had identified the object as a fireball.
“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 … the size of a basketball or baseball that likely disintegrated before it hit the ground.”
People across the Coachella Valley saw it soaring across the sky about 7:45 p.m., as did others across the Southwest, from San Diego to Phoenix.
The fireball looked like a falling star that continued crashing toward a mountain, a Desert Sun reporter in Palm Springs said.
Most called it green, while others said it started as a small white dot before morphing into yellow then green.
“A friend and I saw a huge green meteor falling toward Palm Desert, with a tail burning for five seconds or so,” said resident Michael Azzarella, who was driving on Bob Hope Drive at the time.
What is a meteor?
An asteroid is a relatively small, inactive, rocky body that orbits the sun.
When a piece of that asteroid — known as a meteoroid — enters the Earth and vaporizes, the light phenomenon that results is called a meteor.
That object becomes known as a meteorite if it survives its passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and hits the ground.
The bluish-green color suggests the fireball, an asteroid fragment that entered Earth’s atmosphere, 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.
“I have never seen anything this huge enter the earth’s atmosphere, nor have I ever witnessed one so bright and colorful that lasted for so long. It was at least four or five seconds!” Kathy Westmoreland of San Dimas wrote to The Desert Sun.
Marc DeBiase and a friend saw the fireball from La Quinta.
“We spotted the falling hunk of fire and what seemed to be a eternity lasted about 7-10 seconds of watching this thing get closer and closer to earth and change … colors,” he wrote. “We figured it had made a new hole somewhere on the (Jack Nicklaus) Tournament Course at PGA West.”
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,” he said.
The sight did have many worried Wednesday night, including Brenda Kaye, who saw the fireball while driving on Da Vall Drive in Rancho Mirage.
“First I thought it was a plane that exploded in mid air. It was going terribly fast down towards the earth,” she wrote. “Then, I supposed it could have been a falling star, but I have never seen one that size.”
Alisha Ball had a similar thought when she spotted the fireball while leaving her house in the Mira Mesa area of San Diego.
“With the Navy base being close-by, I was concerned it was a jet going down, because it was traveling at such a fast speed,” she wrote.
But Ian Gregor, an Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, confirmed that there were no aircraft incidents reported in the Western region.
Before the UFO was identified, Twitter users from across the region — including Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego — were eager for answers about the unusual activity in the night sky.
“First an #earthquake this morning and now a #meteor tonight. Riverside CA is hopping with activity today,” @kelliebrat61 tweeted. “Mama Nature getting her groove on!”
If you saw the light or snapped pictures of it, email email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kate McGinty is a reporter for The Desert Sun. She covers public safety and the city of Desert Hot Springs. She can be reached at (760) 778-6451, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @TDSKateM.