Image
© Courtesy images
These images, which were pulled from video taken at the Lincoln Airport,
show the object moving across the sky.
The fireball fell from the sky -- streaking the colors of the rainbow and trailing smoke -- at 3:24 a.m., while most of Nebraska was sleeping.

Except for Greg, a ServiceMaster employee, who saw it from Lincoln Airport's parking garage. And Aaron, a TSA employee, who saw it from the interstate. And two citizens concerned enough to call 911.

And a sheriff's deputy, who was dispatched to search for a bright spot on the dark ground near Pawnee Lake, northwest of Lincoln.

And the surveillance camera (which never sleeps) mounted in the car rental return lot north of the airport terminal.

It recorded a black sky most of the night. But at about 42 seconds past 3:24, a streak appeared in the northwest. It stretched out, flared, seemed to spawn a pair of fireballs and disappeared behind the horizon.

Then phones started ringing.

Things fall from space daily, but they're usually small -- the size of a grain of sand, or a pea-sized bit of debris, said Kevin Lee, an astronomy professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"This would be a larger piece. You get a bright fireball, you're talking baseball- or softball-sized," Lee said.

A big, blazing meteor can appear to be close by, but it could be hurtling toward the ground 100 miles or more away, he said.

Which can make it hard to find.

Early Wednesday, the TSA employee was driving east through Seward County when he saw a "flash of light that was multiple-colored like a rainbow" and guessed it was about 10 miles north. The ServiceMaster employee thought it was near U.S. 34, just north the airport.

The Lancaster County Sheriff's Office took its first call at 3:34 a.m. The caller "saw something falling from the sky," Sheriff Terry Wagner said, "and a flash of light where it went down."

A deputy was sent to search near Northwest 126th Street between West Superior and West Adams streets.

The 911 center also called the airport. Just in case.

"Anytime they get reports of something coming down, they're going to notify us," said Robert Ziemer, chief of the Lincoln Airport Authority Police Department.

By 4 a.m., an airport police team already had checked -- and cleared -- the runways.

And the deputy returned from his search having found nothing from outer space. Nobody hurt, no damage, no crime, the sheriff said.

"If we saw something, we would protect it until we found out who laid claim to it and who wanted it," Wagner said. "It certainly would have some scientific value to it."