Meteor the Size of a Car Lands in the Bay Area

A large meteor that was seen and heard in Fairfax and throughout the Bay Area apparently fell in the East Bay hills Wednesday night. It is not part of the Orionid shower, according to experts. Did you see it streak across the sky?

A large meteor streaked across the night sky Wednesday and apparently landed in hills in the East Bay near Martinez. It was seen and heard throughout the Bay Area, including in Marin.  

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 rushed to social media Wednesday night to report 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 hikers may be able to find small pieces of the meteor, called meteorites once they land on Earth, in the hills north of Martinez.

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 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 traveling between 200 and 400 mph.

Wednesday night's 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 more than 1,000 mph, Braidman said.

Braidman said the meteor is not 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 last night'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.

Sightings of tonight's meteor were reported throughout the Bay Area from Santa Cruz to San Jose, Oakland, Pacifica, Daly City, Sausalito, and even in Davis.

--Bay City News Service

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

See what else is happening in San Rafael:

  1. Kellogg's Frosted and Unfrosted Mini-Wheats Recalled for Metal Fragments
  2. Should E-cigarettes be Regulated in San Rafael?
  3. How to Watch the Orionids Meteor Shower 2012
  4. Indian Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Marinscope Newspapers Owner
  5. Police Investigate 15 Burglaries in Peacock Gap and Glenwood Neighborhoods

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Alex Horvath October 19, 2012 at 01:39 AM
I just assumed it was the balloon that the sound-barrier-breaking skydiver jumped from...
Sandy Wilkins October 19, 2012 at 01:45 AM
I was outside in Fairfax Marin county and saw the hillside light up so intensely that I thought that someone threw a spotlight on it, I looked up to see this huge fireball with a long orange red tail breaking up in big chunks and sparkling sort of like fireworks. It was heading north east and I felt the sonic boom and a rumbling sound very much like thunder. I've never seen anything like this before. I feel lucky to have been looking up at the right time.
E Perkins October 19, 2012 at 03:36 PM
I was driving on Mesa Road in Bolinas and felt/saw a huge flash behind me. Thought maybe it was a transformer blowing out but seemed too high/big for that. No one I met up with had seen anything, so was glad to read I wasn't imagining it!
Kathleen D October 19, 2012 at 07:53 PM
heard it - thought it was a plane crash or something, didnt see anything, spooky rumbling sound, sort of fireworks far away ...thought it was the giants wining (not a baseball fan so have no idea when they were actually playing!)
Mike Van Horn October 19, 2012 at 07:53 PM
I'm so sorry we missed it. There should have been an announcement: "Cadillac-sized rock hurtling towards Martinez from outer space. Large explosion expected! Be on the look out!"
Patricia DuMond October 20, 2012 at 03:19 AM
My husband & I were in our house in the hills of San Rafael, looking at photos when we both heard a loud sound... I said "do you hear that?" and he said "sounds like thunder". It was very strange but didn't last for long and we both continued on looking at our pictures. I read about the meteor then next day in the paper and put two and two together. Cool! Wish I had seen it but now at least I can say I've "heard" a meteor!
Laura October 20, 2012 at 05:40 AM
We were walking out of the Range Cafe at Peacock Gap Golf Course and it was in plain view over the hills - an amazing sight. It was a large ball of bright light with green and red streaks traveling across the sky. We heard the boom right after it disappeared. It was stunning. The Range is the perfect place to view stars from their outdoor patio with fire pit, glass of vino and appreciation of life in Marin.


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