Frederick News Post
Thu, 30 Dec 2010 12:29 UTC
It wasn't a plane.
It wasn't even ... well, you know, but there was something that zipped across the evening sky at about 6:50 p.m. Tuesday and a number of area folks say they saw it.
"I tell you what, the hair stood up on the back of my neck," said Al Labrush, a veteran meteorite watcher and collector. "It was frightening."
Labrush said he was standing near Danielle's restaurant downtown when he caught sight of something that looked to be about 1,500 feet away.
"I heard this sizzling behind me. ... I turned and looked: This huge meteorite came. ... It was throwing off sparks and chunks," Labrush said. "I'm into meteorites -- every time they call for meteor showers, I'm out. I very seldom get scared -- (but) I never want to see another one like that."
Steve Lawrence saw it, too.
Lawrence was driving home on Old Kiln Road when he saw the bright object in the northern sky, "like a fireball," through the passenger side window.
Three white flashes erupted, lighting up the night like daylight for an instant, and then it all seemed to disintegrate, he said. "Night turned to day," Lawrence said. "The flash was like heat lightning."
Sean Dennison saw it, too -- from Hagerstown.
Dennison, who works with Lawrence, was walking from his house to his car when he saw it. It was so unusual that he went back inside to tell his wife, before heading out to play racquetball.
He heard Lawrence talking about the bright light Wednesday and chimed in.
"I saw the same thing," said Dennison, who compared the white brightness to burning magnesium, and the object moved slower than a falling star. "A burst of sparkles," like fireworks, concluded the scene, he said.
Lawrence said he watched a plume of smoke hanging in the night sky for 20 minutes.
Robert Gutro, a NASA deputy news chief, said he took a call from a woman he did not know who telephoned Tuesday to report what she had seen.
"She was kind of panicked," Gutro said. She described the bright object moving across the sky, and it "broke up into pieces," he said.
A spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command said NORAD did not report tracking anything, which rules out so-called "space junk," such as out-of-commission satellites.
Frederick County Emergency Communications reported no calls about it.
If it was a meteor, it likely left a trail of debris, said expert John Wasson at the University of California at Los Angeles. He said it sounded like a meteor is probably what people saw.
Wasson predicted that meteor hunters such as Mike Farmer of Tucson, Arizona, would be on the trail before anyone else.
Farmer said he surely would be.
"Normally, I would jump on the plane and come out," Farmer said when reached by telephone. But Wednesday he was preparing to go to the Middle East on an expedition.
Farmer was not aware of any meteoric activity here, but based on the accounts of Tuesday's event, he said he would have people look into it.
Lawrence said he had the unsettling feeling that whatever it was fell less than a mile from his house, and he planned to look for evidence.
"You need to experience that right behind your house," he said.