Meteor Burns Up as It Flies Over Washington Area

A fireball raced across the skies over the East Coast Monday night. NASA is currently shut down, but at least savvy amateur astronomers were on the case.

By: Benjamin Freed

Stargazers around Washington got a bit of a show Monday evening when a fireball streaked over the East Coast, prompting dozens of eyewitness accounts from around the region. The meteor burned up in about 8:25 PM, giving a show to people from Virginia to as far away as Connecticut, according to reports collected by the American Meteor Society.

“Bright but small at head. Long trail. Seemed to wink out with small flash beyond Baltimore,” an observer from Gaithersburg wrote. Others said it appeared take on a greenish glow as it streaked across the night sky.

A Herndon resident wrote that the fireball seemed “quite close,” while a Fairfax spotter said it appeared to be headed in a “downward direction.” Mike Hankey of the American Meteor Society writes that a preliminary trajectory plot suggests the meteor entered the atmosphere over New Jersey and flew northeast, crossing the tip of Delaware and a corner of Maryland before finally burning out over Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Some on Twitter joked that a space rock flaming out over the Washington area was symbolic of the continuing shutdown.

#shutdown RT @capitalweather: Have seen some reports of a fireball (large meteor) in DC area around 8:25 pm. Anyone see it?

— Nicky Woolf (@NickyWoolf) October 15, 2013

#ALIENS are so mad a Congress that they threw a meteor at DC. http://t.co/sRiTXbY4wx #TrueStory #PANIC #shutdown

— Andrew Applegate (@AndrewApplegate) October 15, 2013

God almost had final say in govt shutdown RT @capitalweather: Have seen some reports of fireball/large meteor in DC area around 8:25 pm.

— Evan Lips (@evanmlips) October 15, 2013
But the combination of extraterrestrial bodies and a federal budget impasse is no joke. Perhaps the most unnerving moment of the shutdown came early on, when NASA suspended its Asteroid Watch Twitter account. At least amateur astronomers were on the case, if not the officials who are supposed to keep track of the estimated one million near-earth objects big enough to wipe out an entire city.