fireball nova scotia
© Benda Levy Tate
This one in a million photo was taken by Benda Levy Tate near Shelburne, N.S., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at 10:07 p.m. Atlantic Daylight Time.
Anyone in Nova Scotia who happened to be looking at the night sky at the right time on Thursday evening would have gotten quite a show.

Dozens of skygazers took to social media after a large, glowing ball was spotted above most of the Maritimes, and as far south as Maine to ask a similar question - what the heck was that?

According to David Lane, director of the Burke-Gaffney Observatory at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, the glowing ball was a particularly bright meteor known as a fireball.

"(It) results from a chunk of rock that once orbited around the sun called a meteoroid," Lane told The Chronicle Herald. "The Earth got in its way and it and it burns up in the atmosphere," Lane told The Chronicle Herald.

The object was spotted by a camera stationed at the observatory at 10:07 p.m. and was visible travelling across the sky for several seconds before disappearing.

"We don't actually see the meteor itself burning up, we just see the effects of friction when it hits our atmosphere and causes the air itself to glow," Lane explained.

While the object may have appeared to be passing close by to onlookers, Lane said it was likely around 100 kilometres above Earth, as evidenced by the fact that it could be observed over such a large region.

Lane said based on his observation, the meteor didn't appear to break apart and likely burnt up before it could hit the ground as a meteorite.

"Even if it did, being in a province surrounded by ocean, the likelihood that it ever hits the ground is very slim," he said. "If you look east from Halifax where it stopped burning, that's way over the Atlantic Ocean."

Fireballs like the one spotted Thursday evening are actually a fairly common occurrence, Lane said, but because they will often pass through the Earth's atmosphere during the day, or when it is cloudy, or when nobody is looking, when one is spotted, people like to talk about it.

That buzz is precisely what fascinates Haligonian Jordan Bonaparte, who hosts a popular paranormal podcast called Night Time.

"When something like this happens, especially when it's something a lot of people see, even if it's clearly a meteor or a comet, it just gets people's imaginations going and gives them something to post pictures about and debate about online," he told The Chronicle Herald.

"This, for whatever reason, really blew up, people all around are talking about it. It was seen from Maine, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Nova Scotia - it was a clear sky last night so people got a really good look at it and everybody had a story."

There were even false photos of the object being shared on social media, which Bonaparte said were quickly debunked by UFO enthusiasts.

Even when objects spotted in the sky can be explained by science, Bonaparte said often people still choose to believe more supernatural explanations, either because the explanations offered by astronomy are inaccessible, or as Mulder would say, simply because they want to believe.

In this case, Bonaparte said, the online UFO community was quick to draw a connection between the object sighting and recent vandalism of the Shag Harbour UFO Centre, which commemorates the famous 1967 UFO incident in the community.

For now, that's the explanation Bonaparte is going with.

"Until a clear photo surfaces, I'm going to say it was revenge for Shag Harbour."