NEWARK - Something happened at around 9 p.m. Wednesday that a lot of people heard, or even felt.

What it was, though, might forever remain a mystery.

"It" was a loud bang, something loud enough to be heard across southern and central Ohio, and loud enough to make small objects move in houses. Reports have rolled into The Advocate from Hanover to Heath, from Buckeye Lake to Granville, and NBC4 heard reports from Muskingum, Fairfield and Pickaway counties.

Rumors range from an earthquake to a meteor strike, a sonic boom to something ice-related.

Was it simply falling ice? That's what many, including NBC4's Jym Ganahl, believe. But many also went outside to check because it sounded like their houses had been hit.

A few things have been eliminated. Instruments show it wasn't an earthquake. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base told NBC4 that it didn't have any flights in the area, and North American Aerospace Defense Command said it knew of nothing man-made entering the atmosphere.

NORAD did report a flight of National Guard jets out of Toledo over southern Ohio, but it was not fast enough to break the sound barrier and create a sonic boom.

While we may never know for sure, at least one scientist believes the meteor could be the answer.

Mike Hansen, director of the Ohio Seismic Network, said there's no evidence to suggest an earthquake could have caused the bang, especially not over the range specified. NBC4 has fielded calls from Fairfield, Muskingum and Pickaway counties, and the National Weather Service heard similar tales from Cincinnati, Wilmington and Lebanon.

Jeff Gill, of Granville, said he saw a meteor with a relatively long trail, with red, green and gold coloration. It was headed east to west and lasted about three seconds; after it faded, the sonic boom washed over him, he said.

"I saw it first. It was the most eerie, cool, scary, wonderful thing. You just see this dragon tail going across the sky," said Gill, who also writes a religion column for The Advocate. "All of a sudden, everything goes boom."

He said he checked his watch and thought it said 9:42 p.m., but now he can't be certain. A seismograph at the Ohio Seismic Network's office in Alum Creek picked up something that Hansen said was more than likely something noise-related, but other seismographs, including a more sensitive machine in the same building, didn't catch anything.

That report was at 8:42 p.m., which is more consistent with the other reports.

"His description there of the colors of it are consistent with a meteorite," said Hansen, who also has studied meteorites. "That would be an explanation of a sonic boom-type phenomenon."

A sonic boom travels across terrain behind the aircraft - or meteorite - creating it, he said. The speed of an average meteorite, 25,000 miles per hour, would certainly allow for similar reports across the state, and if the object was at a low trajectory, it could be heard literally far and wide.

The Licking County Sheriff's Office reported about 10 calls between 8:35 p.m. and 3:48 a.m. from residents hearing loud noises. Five of the calls came between 8:51 and 9:43 p.m.

Hansen said he hears similar time discrepancies all the time when dealing with earthquakes, which often are noticed as loud bangs.

"People are notoriously bad at reporting the times," he said. "You have to look at these peoples' reports with a bit of skepticism on timing."

Most reported the bang at or near 9 p.m., roughly around the same time the Ohio State basketball game was ending on TV. But some reports came in of multiple bangs, or some as late as 4 a.m. Thursday.

Aside from the time discrepancies, the profile fits a meteor, said Christine Pulliam, public relations specialist for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

"Typically you have one coming in at a particular time," Pulliam said. No agency tracks meteors entering the Earth's atmosphere, however. "If it definitely wasn't anything manmade, then I guess a meteor's the most likely explanation."

The National Weather Service's station in Wilmington is equally lost, especially after hearing calls from the Cincinnati area. The only common factor is that each area was affected by Tuesday's ice storm.

"It definitely wasn't thunder," a meteorologist there said. "We're kind of stumped on that ourselves."

Readers of reported similar stories - a bang loud enough to shake houses, but with nothing apparently wrong afterward.

"We live in Indian Hills (west of Granville off Ohio 16) and the explosion at approximately 9 p.m. was so loud it shook our house!" one reader wrote. "We thought a sheet of ice came off of our roof onto the deck or our roof had collapsed, but after further investigation we could find nothing amiss."

Not everyone agreed that it was a meteor, however. Ganahl said every contact he's heard about the bang was writing from an area that got some layer of ice earlier this week.

"I'm 100 percent certain that it's ice," he said. "It's only the areas that had a lot of ice. None have been from areas with just snow."