Meteor the Size of a Car Lands in the Bay Area

A large meteor that was seen and heard in Fairfax and throughout the Bay Area apparently fell in the East Bay hills Wednesday night. It is not part of the Orionid shower, according to experts. Did you see it streak across the sky?

A large meteor streaked across the night sky Wednesday and apparently landed in hills in the East Bay near Martinez. It was seen and heard throughout the Bay Area, including in Marin. 

Did you see or hear it? Tell us about it in the comments. Post any photos you may have taken of it, too, and share it with others. 

Sky observers rushed to social media Wednesday night to report they had seen a bright fireball with hues of red and orange break up overhead shortly before 8 p.m., accompanied by a loud boom.

Jonathan Braidman, astronomy instructor at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center, said the meteor likely hit the Earth around the Martinez Hills and was roughly the size of a car when it broke up over the Bay Area.

Braidman said hikers may be able to find small pieces of the meteor, called meteorites once they land on Earth, in the hills north of Martinez.

The sound was so loud, some residents reported it shook their homes, making them think it may be an earthquake.

Meteors are hunks of rock and metal that have broken off from asteroids and fallen from space, breaking up as they enter Earth's atmosphere.

Braidman said meteors hit the upper layer of Earth's atmosphere traveling 25,000 mph or more, but the atmosphere slows them down and breaks them up so that when they hit the ground they are traveling between 200 and 400 mph.

Wednesday night's meteor appeared for about four or five seconds and was traveling fairly slow compared to some other meteors, indicating it was probably fairly large.

But the boom that residents heard was a sonic boom, caused by the falling object traveling faster than the speed of sound, and was probably moving at more than 1,000 mph, Braidman said.

Braidman said the meteor is not related to the Orionid meteor shower expected to peak over Saturday night and Sunday morning.

A meteor shower is actually not an accurate name for this weekend's phenomenon, Braidman said, and that the "shooting stars" that stargazers will see this weekend are in fact small pieces of comet.

The Orionid phenomenon is predictable because it occurs when Earth passes through the trail of Halley's Comet, but last night's meteor sighting is far less predictable, despite that as much as 15,000 tons of material falls from space each year.

"Even though this kind of thing happens often, it's pretty rare for people to see it," Braidman said.

He said that often such material may not fall in a populated area, potentially just falling into the middle of the ocean.

But stargazers can increase their chances of seeing a meteor or other astronomical phenomenon by going somewhere dark, away from city lights.

The Chabot Space and Science Center offers two free public star viewings weekly on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 7:30 p.m. In addition to this weekend's Orionid shower, viewers can also catch glimpses of Jupiter, the Moon and nebulae there.

The observatory is located at 10000 Skyline Blvd. in the Oakland Hills.

Sightings of tonight's meteor were reported throughout the Bay Area from Santa Cruz to San Jose, Oakland, Pacifica, Daly City, Sausalito, and even in Davis.

Did you see the meteor? Tell us about it in the comments. 

By Bay City News Service

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Amanda Murtagh October 18, 2012 at 09:25 PM
I was sitting on the side of a hill in Fairfax with my friend. The light from this thing illuminated the entire hillside. It was so bright and so low in the atmosphere, it prompted me to jump out of my seat and get a better look. I thought an aircraft was about to crash. Once it was clear it was a meteor and burned out, we heard the booms. This made us suspicious of fireworks, which was the only thing that made sense because it was so low in the atmosphere. I was elated to find out it was, in fact, a meteor. Absolutely amazing. By far one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen in my life. Unbelievable!
Jessica Mullins (Editor) October 18, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Ooooh, i'm so jealous you saw it, Amanda. Thanks for sharing the story!
Rebekah Collins October 19, 2012 at 03:59 AM
I did not see it but heard it and thought a transformer had blown up an airplane. My neighbors daughters saw a flash - but we only just learned what it was. Wow Amanda you are so lucky to have this once in a lifetime experience. Just goes to show how being outside a lot is very rewarding in so many ways . . .
Bill Turner October 19, 2012 at 05:44 AM
We most definitely heard the boom(s) but unfortunately missed the light show. Pretty impressive to feel it inside the house, though.
Patty Kuehn October 19, 2012 at 04:51 PM
A group of about 6 of us were sitting outside in Sleepy Hollow and saw it coming and at first thought it was a plane crashing. It went right over our heads and then seconds later a huge boom. It was amazing, bright, and one of the most spectacular things any of us have seen. We felt blessed to see it.
A October 19, 2012 at 06:20 PM
My friend saw it from looking out a window near north Berkeley (near Live Oak Park). She thought it was a huge falling star.
A October 19, 2012 at 06:21 PM
She said it was so bright she saw rays coming off of it.
Gravity Man October 19, 2012 at 07:25 PM
We heard the boom and felt our house shake. My daughter and I just looked at each other and said, "What was that?" We thought it might be a military jet flying low and fast enough to make the boom. Then I saw the meteor post later that night.
Anne October 19, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I was cursing the dark as I tried to dump my kitchen composte on the side yard- trying to get our motion sensor lights to go off when suddenly "they" came on! I looked up and saw and heard what I thought was some idiot shooting off real fireworks from Memorial Park. It gott really dark again and I still was unable to get to the garbage area. I had time to go around the house, turn on the lights outside, dump the compost and close the gate before the sonic boom hit. I thne thought it might have been a plane crash-
Anne October 19, 2012 at 08:08 PM
It was amazing!
C Ross October 20, 2012 at 12:19 AM
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's...a meteor! (Dang it, I thought it was Superma..., I mean Obama-Man getting ready for the next debate.)
doodlebug October 20, 2012 at 03:23 PM
I was getting out of my car, just getting home for the evening (in Fairfax) and saw it crossing the sky over the hills - I pointed it out to my sister who had come outside and asked her what she thought it was - she said it must be a plane - I couldn't imagine what kind of plane would leave such a large trail and was thrilled to learn the next morning that it was a meteor. Also glad it didn't land on someone's house.
Michael West December 30, 2012 at 12:44 AM
I had just walked out the back door onto my porch in time to see the huge display. it was clear enough to see the sizzling particulate matter being ejected . it appeared to be about the length of my hand at arms length. Not your "average" shooting star.


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