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What Was That Giant Fireball Over Midwest?

Blast lights up sky in several states

By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 16, 2010 2:08 AM CDT
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(Newser) – Scientists are scratching their heads after a giant fireball lit up the midwestern sky, then vanished. The fireball rattled homes and shook the earth as it streaked across the sky and apparently triggered a sonic boom. Scientists speculate the phenomenon, that also lit up police station phone lines, was a disintegrating meteor—though no evidence of it has been found. But exploding meteorites can emit tremendous amounts of light, even though the matter involved may be as small as a softball, one expert told the Wisconsin State Journal.

James Lattis, the director of the University of Wisconsin Space Place in Madison, also speculated that it could have been a chunk of satellite. He discounted initial reports that it was part of the Gamma Virginids meteor shower, saying the Wednesday night fireball came from the opposite direction. The giant light appeared to be centered in southern Wisconsin, though could be seen in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and as far away as Kansas City. Several observers were alarmed by the blast, and many thought it was an exploding airplane. "I thought it was a missile," a Madison university student told Newser. "I thought we were all dead."

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