Carol Peske was taking out the trash in the South Bay when a stunning fireball lit up the night Wednesday -- along with the Twittersphere and switchboards from Monterey to Mendocino.
"I looked up and it was like one single firework going across the sky," Peske, of Monte Sereno, said Thursday. "I've seen shooting stars before. This was much brighter, much bigger and it seemed closer."
People were still buzzing Thursday about one of the Bay Area's most memorable sky shows in years, but don't be too dismayed if you missed it. You will have an opportunity to see numerous other shooting stars this weekend -- although probably nothing as dramatic.
The bright flash and loud boom that stunned Bay Area residents around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday was most likely a large chunk of rock -- the size of a microwave to a small car -- that was part of the circulating debris left over from the formation of the universe, or from the collision of two asteroids, said Ben Burress, a staff astronomer at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland.
The meteor probably entered the Earth's atmosphere at a blazing speed of 10 to 20 miles per second, creating the sonic boom as it traveled faster than the speed of sound, then began to burn up, Burress said.
Alexa Andrzejewski took to Twitter immediately after viewing the fireball and hearing the loud boom from Alamo Square in San Francisco.
"WHAT WAS THAT?!" she tweeted.
"We saw the sky light up like lightning," she said Thursday. "This was a ball of fire shooting across the sky with a long tail."
Did it entirely burn up as it tore through the sky? Or could chunks of fiery rock, known as meteorites, have struck somewhere out there in the Bay Area? No one knows, although Burress fielded several calls from people hoping to go on a mad dash to try to find some.
One hint: the fireball was heading from the south to the north and was visible as far away as Lake and Mendocino counties, so if any pieces did fall to the ground, they may have hit north of the Bay Area, Burress said.
And they're likely very small. Photographs showed the fireball breaking up as it plunged, Burress said.
The meteor happened to blaze across the sky at the same time the Earth is passing through a stream of dusty rocks that follows Halley's comet. That typically lights up the pre-dawn sky with shooting stars at this time of year. But that is believed to be merely a coincidence since this meteor came from the opposite direction as the comet, Burress said.
Those who missed out on the fireball sighting will have an opportunity to see more shooting stars early this Sunday morning, Oct. 21, which will be prime viewing time for what is known as the Orionid meteor shower, said Andrew Fraknoi, chairman of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills.
Because the meteors from Halley's comet streak out of the constellation Orion, astronomers refer to them as "Orionids."
Fraknoi advised people who want to see the shooting stars to find a spot away from city lights where they can view most of the sky. He suggested bringing a mug of hot chocolate and sharing the experience with someone you love.
"You have to go to where it's dark and give time for your eyes to get dark-adjusted," he said. "Most of the shooting stars are subtle."
Wednesday night's fireball was anything but that. It was not unprecedented, however. Burress estimated that several large, similar-sized chunks of rocks enter the Earth's atmosphere somewhere around the world each year, and every day, smaller chunks arrive.
"Most of it, you don't see," he said.
Contact Sandy Kleffman at 510-293-2478. Follow her at Twitter.com/skleffman.
What happened Wednesday: A large chunk of rock plunged into the Earth's atmosphere at a high rate of speed, began to burn up and created a sonic boom.
What's to come: The pre-dawn hours on Sunday will be a prime time to see other shooting stars that are part of the Orionid meteor shower. For the best viewing, find a dark spot away from city lights where you can see most of the sky.