Massive Fireball Over California Coast – October 17th, 2012

- 23 Comments - In:

The American Meteor Society has received nearly 250 reports about a large fireball seen from the coast of California on October 17th, at approximately 7:44 PM Pacific time. Numerous witnesses reported hearing a series of loud booms.

John in Larkspur, CA writes:

“There were three consecutive booms that happened at least a minute later. Sounded like distant artillery fife or sonic booms.”

From Sarah in San Francisco:

“I heard a sonic boom that was came at least 1, possibly 2 minutes later.”

From Mathew in San Rafael, CA – United States:

“30 sec after the fireball went out, several very loud booms like medium sized thunder claps occurred followed by a long duration rumbling decay over another 30 sec.”

Many witnesses reported that the fireball fragmenting into multiple pieces.

While we are in the middle of the Orionid Meteor Shower and approaching the peak this weekend, this fireball has the signs of a meteorite dropping asteroidal meteor and not a fireball associated with a meteor shower. Generally cometary fireballs will vaporize high up in the atmosphere. The fact that this fireball was accompanied with sonic booms means the meteoroid penetrated the lower atmosphere — something not typically seen with cometary fireballs.

Here are two videos of the fireball:

The fireball appears in the video below at the 42 second mark.

Here’s a map of the witness reports received so far.

California Fireball - October 17th, 2012 - Click For Interactive Map

In the above map, red icons represent movement left to right, while green means movement right to left. Green lines are the starting point of the fireball while yellow lines are the ending point.

If you witnessed this event, please fill out an official fireball report with the American Meteor Society.


Wes Jones in Belmont CA caught this awesome image of last night’s fireball over the San Francisco Bay Area, just before it entered the trees. Read more here: The sky chart is a very rough quick and dirty manual plate solve based on the San Franscisco location and the time of the event. Please not the time of 22:45 is based on EST because stellarium works off the local time zone and I’m on the east coast. This should be adjusted for pacific time. Please alert me of any errors.

CAMS All Sky Photo


  • Geoff Noakes 12 years ago

    My wife and I were walking our dog in Cole Valley, San Francisco, and it was dark. Just as we turned the corner, we saw the object. It was bright enough to light up the neighborhood, and it cast our shadows. It lasted about 10 seconds — long enough that I could call it a bolide and point it out to other pedestrians. My watch read 8:17 pm Pacific time.

    The object was traveling from SSW to NNE. Its tail was long and white. The head broke up into 4-6 pieces that were red and orange, and it reminded be of the breakup of the Space Shuttle Columbia over the western United States area.

    Reply to Geoff
  • Carol Bonham 12 years ago

    I saw a near identical fireball in Crescent City CA but it was at 11.38 PM 16th

    very white very very bright no tail and going what looked straight down. Disappeared behind the tree line.
    Then we saw a same size pure green one on the evening of the 17th about 8.30 at the same location.
    very beautiful full lime green body long tail green and green sparks off the front.
    Both N and slightly W I would think of Crescent City CA

    Reply to Carol
  • Richard Hardy 12 years ago

    Last evening, 10-17-12, at approx 7:40 pm, I observed two meteors shooting across the sky. I was driving westward on Hwy 70 in eastern Plumas Co. just coming over Beckwourth Pass. The first was moving from the NE toward the SW which I observed for about three seconds. The head of the meteor was a pale orange, there were two distinct sections of the meteor…one section riding vertically over the second and they were very close to each other. Both of these were displaying a brilliant blueish-green tail which then became a redish-orange. It was at about a 45 degree angle above the horizon as it disappeared. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen! Then, about five to ten minutes later, still driving westward on Hwy 70, I see another meteor at a southwesterly direction flashing across the heavens in a westerly direction approx. 30 degrees above the horizon. It was a very bright yellowish-orange with a fairly long tail. This lasted for about two seconds. Seeing the first one was just amazing…..seeing two of this size and brilliant colors was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.

    Reply to Richard
  • marvina 12 years ago

    We were sitting in our living room here on the Stanford campus when suddenly the house shook. I thought maybe it was an earthquake. Thank you for posting this, Mike.

    Reply to marvina
  • Ricardo Rodriguez 12 years ago

    I was on my way home frrom a 12 hr. shift when I saw this comet-like bright thing flying in the sky, I’m glad to know I was not the only one who saw it! ! ! ! I

    Reply to Ricardo
  • Mary Jo Jirik 12 years ago

    Not sure why folks are looking in Martinez for the remnants. I live in El Sobrante, it was coming down west of me headed NORTH. My buddy in San Pablo looked STRAIGHT UP to see it disintegrate and flame out as it headed NORTH. It would have to go due west to go to Martinez, so it did not. I would look around Mare Island, possibly Pinole Point.

    Reply to Mary
    • MJ Jirik 12 years ago

      oops…meant “it would have to go due EAST to go to Martinez, so it did not.”

      Reply to MJ
  • ROBBIE 12 years ago


    Reply to ROBBIE
  • Celia 12 years ago

    On October 18th 2012 I was driving home from coos bay Oregon headed south and about 7:25 their was a huge ball with an intense blue tail off of it and at the end was a orangish tip! Most amazing thing I have ever seen I stopped in the middle of highway 101.

    Reply to Celia
  • Andrea Webb 12 years ago

    My brother, husband and I saw a bright light similar to those described here, streaming across the sky on October18th, but we were in Bermuda and it was 8:40pm Atlantic time. It was very bright and seemed to be close, but we heard no sound. Not sure if it is related, but it seems like a strange coincidence.

    Reply to Andrea
  • Joy Frimmel 12 years ago

    I saw the meteor when driving from Hopland to Cloverdale right around the border of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. I did not hear the boom.

    Reply to Joy
  • Richard Wray 12 years ago

    On Oct. 17 at 7:45 PM I saw a very bright fireball with a tail streak across the sky, left to right, in front of my RV. I was camped at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The setting with the trees made for a spectacular sight. It seemed like it was going to crash nearby.

    Reply to Richard
  • Stacy A. Steinwand 12 years ago

    My friend, Mark, & I were in Bridgeport, CA last week camping. On Wednesday night we were at the Buckeye Hot springs. Mark was facing West talking to a guy from Germany as I ate a sandwich on the tailgate of the car. Mark saw the meteor enter the sky from the West and quickly disappear. I was facing the mountain range south of us and I saw only the flash of light. Mark describes the meteor as coming from the Western sky but angling North. None of us heard a boom, but still, the meteor seemed closer to Bridgeport than what has been reported. Meteor trickery most likely!

    Good luck on the continued search.

    Reply to Stacy
  • Kik 12 years ago

    Saw it in Oakland. The one with the very long orange sparkly tail followed by a big boom. It was really low. It went south-to north pretty much and lasted 2 seconds at least.

    Reply to Kik
  • Michelle 12 years ago

    It lit up the path I was walking on. I turned to look at it the the ball of light had a trail behind it that was tapering off. The ball of light shooting seemed very close to me as it shot up over my view of Mt. Diablo. The light went very bright and then off. Then I see a black ball ( like a light bulb bring switched off) and back to the regular night sky.

    Reply to Michelle
  • Michelle 12 years ago

    In addition to my last log, I would like to add that the tail appeared to have two gaps it in before the actual explosion at the end. This suggests to me that pieces of the fireball were falling off before hand. Had a nice view due to living in a country like atmosphere, with minimal lights and buildings.

    Reply to Michelle
  • Robbie2 12 years ago

    Standing on a balcony in Oakland, I saw what looked like a huge yellow golden comet with red flashing across the bay…It was approximately 7:30 to 8 PM.

    Reply to Robbie2
  • Austin N 12 years ago

    I can see the entire Santa Clara valley from my deck in the east foothills of San Jose. I saw 100% of this meteor and it lasted a solid ten seconds. I just happened to be staring up at the sky when it flashed into our atmosphere like a strobe light. It was very bright, white hot light with flashes of green and yellow, it reminded me of welding. It was really high when it lit up, and appeared to be directly over the Santa Cruz mountains. In the ten seconds it was on fire I believe it traveled from somewhere over Santa Cruz county to somewhere in Marin or Sonoma county. That’s roughly 27,000 miles an hour! I believe it would be a lot to ask for to hope to ever see something like this again.

    Reply to Austin
  • Ann 12 years ago

    Witnessed a green fireball last night sometime after midnight in Connecticut streaking across the sky headed east – probably part of the meteor shower that took place between 10 PM and 2AM. The sky was obscured by milky clouds but this streaked across the sky and was clearly visible with a brilliant green tail – rather startling and a great surprise! Would copper in the rocks make-up be the cause of the brilliant greean color?

    Reply to Ann
  • Carl Hokanson 12 years ago

    On 12/15/12 at approx 8:30 PM I saw an odd green ball of light steak across my north facing window as I was laying in bed, it crossed the window at approx a 75 degree angle and moved very fast . It was far off in the distance and as bright as the glow of a burning cigarette end approx 1/2 the size.It was moving a thousands of miles an hour by the way it streaked by the window . it seemed like it would hit ground and still be intact It was a steady green light with no large trail.

    Reply to Carl
  • ben murphy 12 years ago

    My wife and I were driving on 175 heading torwards Cobb when a brilliant green fireball leaving a long steak of green crashed. Its landing looked to be on the healdsburg side of the geysers. A huge explosion of light lit the peak of the mountain up. It must have been going pretty darn fast considering it was over before we realized what was happening

    Reply to ben

Leave a Reply to Richard Wray Cancel reply to Richard

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *