fireball over UK
© Rowland HobsonHow an object might have looked, streaking across the night sky over Peterborough
Anyone who witnessed a ball of flame streaking across the night sky on Wednesday evening will be relieved to discover that the end of the world is definitely not nigh.

UFO spotters, however, may find it something of a disappointment that the fiery spectacle seen lingering above Peterborough was certainly not an alien spacecraft crashing to Earth.

Since 6.30pm on Wednesday, The Evening Telegraph has been inundated with calls and e-mails from readers who saw a strange fireball cutting a swath across the heavens for several minutes.

Suggested explanations have varied from the nearly plausible to the distinctly tongue-in-cheek, including fireworks, tricks of the light and the result of too much time spent in the pub.

The ET, meanwhile, has been busy trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, and after consultation with the experts we believe we have discovered the answer.

The most likely explanation, according to RAF Wittering-based Met Office weather forecaster and keen astronomer Julian Cooke, is that it was an "unusually large" meteor.

"Fireballs are meteors or meteorites which are brighter than normal and although they are not common, they are not all that unusual either," he said.

"There has been a meteor shower which was at its maximum on Tuesday, and they do tend to spread over a few days either side.

"Most meteors are the size of a grain of sand or a grape pip, but occasionally one will be much larger - maybe the size of a golf ball.

"They will burn for much longer or even explode with a flash in the upper atmosphere, which is why they are easily visible in clear conditions.

"What you can see is the meteor burning up as it enters the atmosphere. It is obviously quite a sight but is certainly nothing to worry about."

Another astronomer, 38-year-old Jason Hart, of Orton Brimbles, Peterborough, reckons the spectacle could also have been an "iridium flare" - when the light of the sun hits reflective surfaces on satellites orbiting the earth, creating a streak of bright, white light.

Dragon pub Regulars
© Paul FranksRegulars at the the Dragon pub watched in amazement as the fireball shot through the sky
But if the accounts of regulars and staff at the Dragon pub in Werrington are to be believed, the phenomenon was more in keeping with Mr Cooke's fireball explanation.

Pub manager Janek Skutela said: "It looked like a bright orange ball, and about 20 of us went outside the pub to watch it after one regular came in and said he could see a UFO.

"At first it shot across the sky really fast but then it went really slowly before disappearing into the distance. All in all it lasted about seven or eight minutes.

"We couldn't work out what it was but there were reports of a similar thing happening a fortnight before. One of our customers saw it but didn't say anything because he was scared everyone would take the mickey out of him."

Tina Barnes (42), of Tanglewood, Werrington, spotted the fireball outside the Hodgson Centre next door to the pub.

She said: "At first when I saw the fireball I thought it was a firework because of the time of year and I was waiting for it to explode. But it continued to come nearer and nearer until it was above my head and very visible that it was fire."