"It certainly sounds like a meteor," said Adam Rengstorf, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond. "It certainly sounds like a decent-sized chunk of rock that hit."
Most meteors are the size of a pebble or a grain of sand. This one could range from a baseball in scope to that of a small car, he said.
Initially, many residents feared the worst.
Callers flooded Howard County's 911 dispatch center with reports of the noise and aerial display, prompting a massive search for a plane that might have crashed or anything sinister. But Sheriff Marshall D. Talbert said authorities have no other explanation.
"One witness told us there was a large glow of light that broke into four smaller section of light that cascaded to earth," Talbert said. "It does appear that it was some sort of meteorite because we did not have an aircraft accident."
First responders in Howard and Tipton counties, along with Indiana State Police, were mobilized within minutes of the incident. In Howard County alone, 911 dispatchers took 146 phone calls within a 15-minute timeframe between 10:25 p.m. and 10:40 p.m. Normally the 911 center averages 15 to 20 calls between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Howard County activated its emergency management agency just in case.
"Obviously, we're all in a heightened state of awareness," Talbert said. "Certainly when people observe something like that, they do what we want them to do and that's report it. But it does appear it was some sort of meteorite."
So far there have been no reports of any debris or evidence found in what is a broad reporting area. Callers reported the incident as coming from the west but gave different descriptions as to the location. Kokomo, home to about 46,000 people, is 60 miles north of Indianapolis.
Bill Burton, 52, an electrician from Komoko, was cruising the Internet from his home Wednesday night when he said he heard a boom and raced outside. What Burton said he saw was four distinct fragments of white light that each turned red and were stacked together like four period punctuation marks. The phenomenon lasted only a few seconds.
"I've seen every kind of meteor or ... shower ... anything you want. I am telling you this was some very strange stuff. Very strange," Burton told the Star. "I hate to tag it, but I'd call it a UFO."
Cameron Huffman, 19, a student at Indiana University-Kokomo, was also a witness. He was walking his girlfriend to his car when he heard the noise. He looked up in the sky but it was several seconds before any object appeared.
"It was really interesting," said Huffman, who believes he saw a meteor. "People just started flooding the radio stations and the police. It woke everybody up."
According to the Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Logansport residents experienced a similar loud noise Tuesday night around the same time. Shortly after hearing the boom, which shook the walls of buildings throughout Logansport and the surrounding areas, a caller reported seeing a fireball in an area just west of Ind. 25 on 350N.
Authorities at Grissom Air Reserve Base near Kokomo and Indianapolis International Airport told police they had no aircraft missing, the Kokomo Tribune reported.