SAN FRANCISCO - Hours after a meteor exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,000 people and an asteroid passed relatively close to Earth, residents in Northern California reported seeing an unusual flash of light over the San Francisco Bay area that left many startled and thrilled.
The Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland reports receiving calls describing what appeared to be a fireball flying west Friday night. It's not clear what the object was.
Jonathan Braidman, an instructor at the center, described the object based off reports as likely being a small piece of an asteroid that "somehow" got on a collision course with the earth.
"This is a very common occurrence," Braidman said. "What is uncommon is that it's so close to where people are living."
The center's large telescopes did not pick up the object during a stargazing event, astronomer Gerald McKeegan told KGO-TV. The American Meteor Society at Pennsylvania State University, meanwhile, said it received at least 35 reports of the event, according to operations managers Mike Hankey.
Based on reports, Hankey said it appeared the light streaking in the night sky was a sporadic meteor, or fireball. "Fireballs happen every single night, all around the world," he said.
Experts say smaller meteorites hit Earth five to 10 times a year but large meteors such as the one in Russia are rarer. Another meteor landed in the Bay Area in October and caused a loud sonic boom.
"The media attention on the Russian thing got people's attention, so they're more likely to notice things in the sky," said Mike Hankey, operations manager of the American Meteor Society.
While Friday's night fireball received a lot of attention in the San Francisco Bay area, Braidman notes about 15,000 tons of debris from asteroids enter the earth's atmosphere every year.
"Usually these things break up into small pieces and are difficult to find," he said.