About a dozen Long Islanders were among hundreds of people from Maine to Maryland who reported seeing "a bright fireball" in the sky Monday evening, according to the American Meteor Society.
An observer from Levittown wrote on the society's event page: "This was the coolest thing [I've] ever seen. [I] feel so lucky." An observer from East Atlantic Beach wrote: "Definitely wasn't fireworks."
Among the 330 witnesses who reported seeing the bright, burning fireball, visible at around 6:35 p.m., were also those from West Babylon, Old Bethpage, West Islip, Blue Point, Huntington Station, Plainview, Valley Stream, West Hempstead and Babylon, according to the society.
Fireballs -- which are very bright meteors -- "happen more frequently than you would expect," said Frederick Walter, astronomy professor at Stony Brook University.
Indeed, he pointed to NASA's All-sky Fireball Network, consisting of 15 cameras scanning sections of sky over the United States. As of Tuesday, the site -- SpaceWeather.com -- was sharing data on 39 fireballs spotted since last Wednesday.
Monday's fireball was out of range of the closest cameras, located in northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.
What made Monday's stand out, he said, was not its brightness but the fact it shot through the dark, winter sky in a densely populated area as people were heading home from work.
Under those conditions, "anything in the sky would get their attention," he said.
Such meteors, traveling at speeds of some 65,000 mph, would probably be just about an inch across, Walter said, as they slam into the Earth's atmosphere and get vaporized.
Such a small hunk of rock could generate "an ionization trail the length of a battle ship," Cooke, said, which is what can be so dazzling to people on Earth.
With John Valenti