Hundreds capture spectacular fireball passing uncomfortably close to Earth
To the American Meteor Society it was simply Event 2281-2021, an unremarkable name for a spectacular fireball that made an uncomfortably close pass to Earth on Monday.
A fiery trail and apparent space-rock explosion was captured on doorbell cameras and dashcams and was visible to stargazers from Florida to the Bahamas at about 10.19pm ET.
A TV crew in West Palm Beach was recording as the object streaked across the heavens; a homeowner in Parkland captured the event on a security camera; several others uploaded footage to the AMS database; residents in Grand Bahama reported a sonic boom.
On Tuesday, debate was under way as to what it was they witnessed. Some experts believe it was asteroid 2021 GW4, spotted for the first time five days ago by astronomers at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona, and calculated to travel dangerously close on Monday to a number of satellites orbiting Earth, the nearest only 1,200 miles away.
Roughly the size of a small car, the asteroid would have burned up in Earth’s atmosphere. But it was still reckoned to be one of the closest passes in recent times.
Some believe the object could have been a chunk from the asteroid. The astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said the object was a run-of-the-mill fireball and nothing to do with GW4.
By mid-morning on Tuesday more than 200 people had submitted reports and videos to the AMS, making this one of the largest events in its 2021 database.
Last month a “meteor shower” that mesmerized watchers in the skies above Seattle turned out to be falling debris from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched earlier in the day from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
On Monday, there were no space launches from US soil. The light show visible over the Atlantic would almost certainly have been caused by a celestial object.