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Fireball meteor burns up over South Florida

Satellite image of the continental U.S. with a red circle drawn near the Florida coast, indicating the location of a fireball that crossed the sky off the east coast
(Image credit: The National Weather Service Tampa Bay/NOAA)

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. 

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The meteor was spotted at about 10 p.m. EDT, when it tumbled from the sky and disintegrated in a sudden flash of light, NPR reported

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. 

Related: What's the difference between asteroids, comets and meteors?

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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. 

Nicoletta Lanese
Nicoletta Lanese is a science journalist and dancer who aims to bring science to new audiences, whether in print or on stage. She holds degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Brains are her beat. Follow her on Twitter @NicolettaML.