A sparkling fireball zoomed across the sky near West Palm Beach, Florida on Monday night (April 13), and local news teams and home security systems caught footage of its dramatic descent.
@CoralTap Just saw this in the sky from Parkland at 10:16PM. #Meteor pic.twitter.com/E1rqXUbku8April 13, 2021
Soon after, Jay O'Brien, a reporter for CBS News in West Palm Beach, tweeted a video of the fireball exploding in midair. His colleague Zach Covey, a meteorologist for CBS, responded saying that the fireball was likely a "chunk of an asteroid known as 2021 GW4," a space rock that was due to pass by Earth that night.
WOAH! Big flash and streak across sky in West Palm Beach. Happened moments ago while we were on Facebook Live for a @CBS12 story. Working to figure out what it was. pic.twitter.com/VDl9pFtb3hApril 13, 2021
The asteroid, estimated to be about 14 feet (4 meters) across, passed the planet about 16,300 miles (26,200 kilometers) away, according to Space.com. The asteroid will now make a two-year loop around the sun, eventually swinging back around to Earth; however, NASA predicts that it won't come nearly as close as it did on April 12 for at least another century.
Although 2021 GW4 made a relatively close pass by the planet, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, disagreed with Covey's theory, tweeting that "It's a normal fireball and nothing to do with GW4."
Generally speaking, fireballs include any meteor that shines at least as brightly as the planet Venus in the sky, according to Space.com; fireballs actually fall to Earth every day but most go unnoticed, falling over uninhabited areas, during the day or under cloud cover, according to the International Meteor Organization, an international non-profit.
Whatever the meteor's origin, the National Weather Service Tampa Bay managed to snap a picture of the fireball burning up off the Florida coast. The bright flash was picked up by the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), a satellite-borne instrument that monitors for changes in brightness to keep track of lightning events, they tweeted.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.