California-Nevada Fireball January 17, 2013

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The American Meteor Society has received over 100 reports of a bright meteor that occurred near 05:21 PST on Thursday morning January 17, 2013. Brightness estimates of this fireball vary considerably, but the average lies near magnitude -20, which lies between the light produced by the full moon and the sun. Every color of the rainbow has been reported with blue and white being most mentioned. A great majority of the reports have come from the San Francisco Bay area, but sightings of the same event have also been received from Southern and Central California, and Nevada. Individual reports may be viewed in the 2013 AMS Fireball Table Refer to event #103 for 2013.

For those not familiar with meteors and fireballs, a fireball is a meteor that is larger than normal. Most meteors are only the size of small pebbles. A meteor the size of a softball can produce light equivalent to the full moon for a short instant. The reason for this is the extreme velocity at which these objects strike the atmosphere. Even the slowest meteors are still traveling at 10 miles per SECOND, which is much faster than a speeding bullet. Fireballs occur every day over all parts of the Earth. It is rare though for an individual to see more than one or two per lifetime as they also occur during the day, on a cloudy night, or over a remote area where no one sees it. Observing during one of the major annual meteor showers can increase your chance of seeing another one of these bright meteors.

Meteors often appear much closer than they really are. I receive countless reports that the object landed just over the hill when in fact it was several hundred miles away and was witnessed over several states. It is your perspective that makes meteors appear to strike the horizon when in fact they are still high in the atmosphere. This is much like a jetliner seen low in your sky. It appears low to you but for someone located many miles away in that direction, the jetliner is passing high overhead. Meteors become visible at approximately 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. Friction slows these objects down until they fall below the velocity necessary to produce light. At this point they still lie at least 5 miles high in the sky. They are invisible below this altitude and cannot be seen as they basically free falling to the ground at 200mph. Very few meteors actually reach the ground as 99.99% completely disintegrate while still 10-20 miles up in the atmosphere.

Robert Lunsford
American Meteor Society



  • Kevin C. 10 years ago

    I saw this while running this morning sometime between 5:20-5:25 a.m. and in Lompoc, Ca (Santa Barbara County) it was amazing and I literally stopped in my tracks because I was so shocked with the blue tail of the meteor. I saw it east of Lompoc and lastest slightly longer than a second.

    Reply to Kevin
  • Nick Hernandez 10 years ago

    I saw it this morning driving to work. I was in Perris , CA just about to jump on the 215 N from D street when I spotted it NW of my location. It really did look like it was very close but after reading this article I guess it was further than I thought.

    Reply to Nick
  • Ronald Normandin 10 years ago

    I had just left for work and I seen the streak of light about 5:20am 1/17/13. I was heading south on Liesure Town Road in Vacaville, Ca (approx 1/2 mile from Vanden Rd intersection. It lit up the inside of my car (a bright light green to yellowish)I had to turn my head to the left to see it. When I looked to the east it looked like it was real close. It had a long streak of light and the front part appeared to be huge and a squareish shape. After the light went out I could still see a trail of smoke as it headed north east towards the Sacramento area. Ron N.

    Reply to Ronald
  • Gary Allen 10 years ago

    I was star gazing this morning at about 5:20, the ground lit up as if it was a full moon (white light)! I did not see the meteor as my line of sight was blocked by my barn, however the light cast by this object was immense. 2500″ elevation on the west slope of the Sierras.

    Reply to Gary
  • M. Scott 10 years ago

    My husband was driving in the early am hours from Phoenix, AZ to Desert Center, CA and called to tell me he saw a meteor with a streak of light behind it. He said it happened so fast and assumed it was out over the Atlantic.

    Reply to M.
  • Dave Akland 10 years ago

    5:15am .I was driving into work on highway 101 north bound just getting into Gilroy Ca. The entire road and surrounding area lit up with a brigh flare like light. I was able to look up through my windshield and see the bright streak of light above the north east sky. It was amazing ! The tracer of light lasted several seconds..

    Reply to Dave
  • suzi jones 10 years ago

    My husband saw this on the way to work. Hawthorne NV

    Reply to suzi
  • Hitomi 10 years ago

    I was driving on Laguna Canyon Road near Irvine around 5:20 am and saw the comet too. It appeared to be emerald green and lit up the whole sky. I was shocked and did not know what it was. I was not sure if it was something man made or a shooting star. I felt lucky because I doubt I will see something like this again in my life.

    Reply to Hitomi
    • Greg Duke 10 years ago

      On 405 freeway near LAX headed northeast and it was not at all like the usual fine, white, gone in a half-second variety. It was very broad, emerald green and almost floated down, like a flare or descending firework. Very impressive and awe inspiring.

      Reply to Greg
  • KM 10 years ago

    I saw this while running in the AM. It lit up the area enough that I felt that a car’s headlights were on me for a split second but the light wasn’t right at all. It was very bright. No houses or streetlights where I was. I looked up and saw the smoke in the sky that appeared to glow and fade. To me it looked like the smoke faded over several seconds. It faded in such a way so that the did not fade from end to end but here and there. I then could see the streak of smoke for a while against the background of stars. Amazing. I wish I had been looking up at the time–but to see the ending of this was a blessing.

    Reply to KM
  • Sonia 10 years ago

    Several of my coworkers stated that they saw this meteor on the way to work this morning. One said it appeared to be on fire and another said it had a very long tail and illuminated the entire area near the foothills. We work in the San Luis Obispo, Ca area. This was at approximately 5:25 am.

    Reply to Sonia
  • B. King 10 years ago

    I was taking out my garbarge from my garage, facing east (from Gardnerville, NV) and the sky fully lit up white lasting a few seconds. High in the sky but a bit south, was a short, thick, jagged trail that glowed bright white and gradually dimmed over about a 15 second period. Truly amazing, I was awe-struck.

    Reply to B.
  • john 10 years ago

    I saw this meteor when I was driving to work early morning around 5:21am at highway 101 south bound going to milpitas. My location was between menlo park and palo alto when there was a sudden flash of light that shocked me and slowed me a little bit and when I looked on my left view window (east direction) I saw that bright light which is different from what I normally see to other meteors. The light lasted for about 5 to 7 sec. which is different from a normal meteor and I thought it was an explosion or an alien? Anway,it was a great experience..

    Reply to john
  • J. Skott 10 years ago

    Did not see with my own eyes, but sure enough, thanks to reports to AMS, there it was on my recorder. Lit up the entire sky for a second, and did have some bright peices following behind it. I envy those who saw with their own eyes. Must have been spectacular.

    Reply to J.
  • Noel M 10 years ago

    As I was walking to terminal B at San Jose international Airport, I noticed the bright streak of light to my left VIVIDLY right around 5:20am. I felt like it landed within 50mi. from me but being that people saw it all the way down from AZ. I’m sure it was a lot further than meets the eye. Amazing experience which I will never forget about.

    Reply to Noel
  • Alfredo 10 years ago

    I saw one today around 5:40pm I was working waiting for my frieght to be shrink warped and I looked at the sky and saw it. I have pictures as while.

    Reply to Alfredo
  • laura 10 years ago

    A once in a lifetime sight. My husband saw this as he went to work at the mine.He said it lit the ground up. we are so isolated we have zero light pollution.Very impressive.

    Reply to laura
  • Rob Marckel 10 years ago

    I saw this when I was driving to work just south of downtown LA. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen something like that. It was like the deceptacons falling out of the sky in terminator. It was north west of my position. Looked very close, but I realize I didn’t have any perspective. Had a huge white tail which went away before it hit the ground, but I could still see the meteor glowing. Really amazing!

    Reply to Rob
  • Lori G. 10 years ago

    Saw it around 5:20 or so on my way to work, near Ione, CA in Amador County.

    Reply to Lori
  • Karen 10 years ago

    I was on my morning run in Auburn CA and was startled by a huge flash of light and the sound of a firecracker sizzling. I thought we were being attacked. Then I realized what it probably was and I calmed down a little. I was in total awe and amazed at what I had seen. Never have I seen anything like it. It made me feel very small.

    Reply to Karen
  • Quinn Fitzpatrick 10 years ago

    At approx 05:20 AM Pacific time, 17 Jan 2013.
    Location N 34.26º ~ W 118.55º Northridge Calif.

    Due North of my home I saw a very bright fireball that looked like it was falling vertically until it went behind the hills (Oat Mountain) 3 miles behind my home. My elevation 1100 ft. The hills to the North of me are 3000 to 3300 ft elevation.

    The fireball was very bright with a tail that extended about 10º+ arc that ended with sparks. From my angle it appeared to be going straight toward the ground. From its size I thought it would strike locally.

    Reply to Quinn
    • Tonya Carney 10 years ago

      I saw this at 5:21 a.m. on my way to the train. I was heading down Central Avenue towards 91 Freeway in Riverside, CA. It was extremely bright like a meteor but appeared rounder in the front and several colors with a blue streak at the end. It appeared to last a few seconds. I thought it was going to crash into Mt. Rubidoux but it arched across the dark sky. WOW! Everyone on the Metrolink was a buzz about it and we couldn’t find anything on the internet on it all day. So glad that others saw it!

      Reply to Tonya
  • Lisa 10 years ago

    My co-worker and I saw it while driving west on Interstate 40, just west of Needles, CA. It looked like a bright green streak with a split second of bluish, and a white tail that kind of sparkled at the end. It was incredible!

    Reply to Lisa
  • Sharon 10 years ago

    I was driving North at 5:20 when right in front of me the fireball came from the east, bright yellow orange flame trailing behind. Spectacular.

    Reply to Sharon
  • Linda York 10 years ago

    I had just left our house to walk the dog when the bright fireball caught my eye. I watched it streak across the sky shedding sparks, leaving such a bright tale behind it. I watched the tale change from intensely bright white to orange to cool blue, then disappear. All I could do was say to the dog “Wow!! That was amazing!!” and the dog didn’t react since she’s deaf!

    Reply to Linda
  • Rita Felts 10 years ago

    I was letting our dog out and saw what at first I thought looked like some sort of fireworks ( not likely at approx 6:20 mst) . It was red at first rapidly turned green. Prescott Valley, AZ

    Reply to Rita
  • Charles C 10 years ago

    My coworker and I saw it standing on our dock at the wholesale produce market in San Francisco, we just happened to be facing north watching the trucks when we saw it in the sky. What a Sight! At first I thought someone was shining a laser in my eyes because of my glasses, that’s how bright it was. Orange fireball, blue than white tail. It sure seemed close. Amazing!

    Reply to Charles
  • Stephanie 10 years ago

    Early Thursday morning, around 1-1:30 AM I was driving north on Highway 101 from San Jose to San Francisco… and I don’t know what I saw.. but it was on fire! My jaw was in my lap and it was incredibly beautiful. No one else seems to have seen this instance… do you know what I saw?

    Reply to Stephanie
    • amsadmin 10 years ago

      Stephanie and All,

      Looks like you saw a fireball, which is a larger than normal meteor. We have 4 other witnesses in our fireball table that witnessed your object. Look under event #102 for 2013.

      Robert Lunsford
      American Meteor Society

      Reply to amsadmin
  • Ben Jourquin 10 years ago

    We were sailing in the Bay of Campeche with a course towards the small harbour of Tuxpan, Mexico.
    Our location at the time was N 20º16’~ W 095º 19′. The sky was clear but the sea wasn’t very calm. I thick there were 5 people on the bridge. Suddenly the sky lid up like there was a massive thunderstorm happening. Only one of us saw the actual meteor. He said it was very bright with a long tail. The feeling we had afterwards was: Damn, if that thing hits the sea in the area, were dead. Fortunately it didn’t 🙂

    Reply to Ben
  • David Gallegos 10 years ago

    I saw the meteor also driving on the 5 North in Los Angeles. It was bright green falling straight down to the ground, then at the end bursted into pieces and ended in white sparks. Was amazing to see, though unnerving to see that early. My instant thoughts were “this is going to hit the ground”, it looked that close to the Earth. Really cool to have seen, I had to share my thoughts.

    Reply to David
  • Jane Trask Rosen 10 years ago

    I was walking on the roof of our building, in Oakland, CA Thursday morning about 5:30 AM, when the sky suddenly lit up bright as day. It was so bright my walking companion and I both said simultaneously, “What was that?” It only lasted a split-second, but seemed to come from the east. We turned to face the east and there, hanging in the dark sky, was a trail, like an enormous comet, brilliantly bright. This stayed in the sky for about a full minute and then gradually faded away. It was the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen. My companion, who is legally blind, couldn’t see the trail but she could certainly see the brilliantly lit-up sky. It was an awesome experience – so bright, so sudden, so unexpected.

    Reply to Jane
  • Rustin Moyer 10 years ago

    I had just backed out of my driveway in Reedley, CA, and was heading north to the gym at 5:20 am when my car and the street around me lit up in a flash of white light. I looked up in time to see a bright white ball with double tails through the blue sun band in my windshield shoot north for a couple of seconds and then extinguish. I wondered if I had really seen a huge meteorite, but when I got to the gym, a friend of mine there asked if I had seen it, too. It was amazing!

    Reply to Rustin
  • Clint Rhoades 10 years ago

    January 17th 2013 at 6:20 am mountain time. This has to be the same event I witnessed. The times match up great. I was driving south about 10 miles west of Burley Idaho when i saw a bright green streak cross the sky that appeared to be heading west. It only lasted a split second. If i was to hold my hand streached out in front of my face to judge the size of the tail I would have to say it was about an inch wide. It was pretty cool to see.

    Reply to Clint
  • Debbie Colcleasure 10 years ago

    On Thursday morning Jan. 17, at approximately 5:20 am. I was driving to work from Lincoln Ca to Roseville on 65, when I saw this wide brilliant orange streak across the sky. It was long, wide and seemed to slowly fade away even though it was probably only seconds. It was beautiful and awesome! Possibly a once in a life time sighting.

    Reply to Debbie
  • R 10 years ago

    Wow, I saw it, too. Around 5:20 a.m. I was northbound on Hwy 5 in southern California. I saw a bright flash and a long slow streak north/northwesterly through the sky. I’ve never seen one that bright or last that long. Simply remarkable and beautiful. I feel very luck to have glimpsed it.

    Reply to R
  • marisol 10 years ago

    1/24/2013 @round 1030 I just saw a what appears to be a big ball of fire well something bight redhot fallen from the sky what was that? * Orlando Florida, orange county

    Reply to marisol
  • Don Machholz 10 years ago

    I was out comet hunting from Colfax CA, when the field of view, the sky and the surrounding area lit up briefly. I pulled back from the telescope, put on my glasses and looked up to see the resulting train high in my SE. Green in color. The train took several minutes to fade away. No sounds were heard.

    Reply to Don
  • brian lavette 10 years ago

    was walking down my driveway to get morning paper. i was facing north and to my left and up i saw it very bright but greenish and blue with a kinda white fireball leaving a trail. ive seen plenty of meteors and even sattelites re-enter, but at first i thought it might have been a rocket or misslie coming in. i was looking in the direction of vandenburg afb and have seen their rockets going out, never in north san diego county in valley center. im still not fully convinced it was a meteor. was very unique!

    Reply to brian
  • Alan Johnson 10 years ago

    I reside in SW Idaho. Early the morning of 16 January 2013, at around 12:15 am MST, a brilliant, moderately large meteor sped across the southwestern sky. I haven’t seen it being reported anywhere.

    Reply to Alan
  • Chris Gardner 10 years ago

    I didn’t think to look this up until our recent meteor activity. I was Driving North bound on I-5 entering Orange county from San Diego County around 5:20 am. The meteor was very large compared to a typical falling star, white light and coming straight down. It ended abruptly in about the middle of my horizon with clearly no impact. However, I thought it was much closer to the Los Angeles area than other reports would indicate. It looked like it was right over LA. Clearly not the case if people in N. Cal saw it while North bound.

    Reply to Chris
    • amsadmin 10 years ago


      Thanks for your report. Whoever called this a comet is mistaken. Comets are different than meteors in that they lie far from the Earth and are visible for months on end. Meteors are particles of comets and asteroids that enter the atmosphere and usually disintegrate within a few seconds, much like your description of the object you witnessed.


      Robert Lunsford
      American Meteor Society

      Reply to amsadmin

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