Florida Fireballs Spark Talk, Fears of Meteor in Wake of Russia Disaster

Wednesday, 20 Feb 2013 09:16 AM

By Dale Eisinger

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Reports of lights streaking across the sky came in from all over Florida on Sunday, an event scientists are calling a "sporadic meteor shower."

Around 7:20 p.m., the Coast Guard said it was flooded by calls from northern Jacksonville to southern Key West, with many describing "red or orange fireballs" and "flare-like streaks."

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Sabrina Laberdesque told NBC Miami that a helicopter was dispatched to investigate, but officials found nothing.

Mike Hankey, the operations manager for the American Meteor Society in Genesee, N.Y., told NBC Miami the group logged 27 reports of the event in  two hours, an unusually high number even though meteors occur frequently.

"These fireballs are common," Hankey told the station. "It’s rare for any one person to see one more than once or twice in their lifetime. But on any given night, it might happen somewhere in the globe a few times in a day."

There has been an uptick in reported meteor sightings recently, most spectacularly Friday's meteor explosion above central Russia that injured more than 1,000 people. The same day, an asteroid large enough to destroy a U.S. city passed by Earth closer than any object without actually hitting the planet. A day later, another bright streak of light was reported in the sky over northern California.

These events have caused many to stargaze with both wonder and worry. Astrophysicists say there is little to fear, though.

Dr. Stephen Schiff, president of the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches, told WPTV there aren't more asteroids; more people are just noticing them.

"For the first time I think people are going outside, away from the bright, light-polluted areas. Now [meteors] happen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But, for the first time, people are looking up," he said.

Scientists say astral activity is even more common than people notice.

"Earth is in the middle of a cosmic shooting gallery," Susan Barnett at Buehler Planetarium told Miami's CBS 4. "We're getting hit with stuff from space every single day. As a matter of fact, we figure 100 tons of material hits the top of the Earth's atmosphere. Most of it burns up."

There haven't been any reports of injuries or damages from Sunday's meteor, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

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