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Thursday, June 03, 2004 - Page updated at 06:32 P.M.

Meteor lights up sky over Western Washington

The Associated Press

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SEATTLE — A meteor about the size of a computer monitor lit up the Northwest sky early this morning, setting off sharp booms that stunned witnesses.

"There was some question as to whether it was a piece of space junk burning up, but it was not," said Geoff Chester, a spokesman for the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. "People always want to know, was it something we put up there coming down again? As far as I've been able to figure out, it was simply a rock falling out of the sky, as they are wont to do on occasion."

Readers report

We heard reports from several readers about the mysterious booms and flashes of light early this morning over Puget Sound:
"At first, I thought I was being beemed [sic] up, but no gauges on my car changed, so I knew I wasn't being 'taken'"
— Linda Schumpert
· Read more reader reports
Chester said it was a type of meteor called a bolide, one which appears bright like a fireball in the sky.

Nothing unusual was detected on National Weather Service radar, and authorities also ruled out aircraft problems or military flight tests.

Toby Smith, a University of Washington astronomy lecturer who specializes in meteorites, said the skybursts were reported over a wide area around 2:40 a.m.

Witnesses along a 60-mile swath of the Puget Sound region from the Tacoma area to Whidbey Island and as far as 260 miles to the east said the sky lit up brilliantly, and many reported booms as if from one or more explosions.

Video of the flash

Meteor images taken from cameras situated at Harborview Medical Center.
· Camera 1
· Camera 2
· Camera 3
· Camera 4
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Jay Neher, a weather service meteorologist, said the agency's radar on Whidbey Island showed nothing unusual but added that the dish could have been pointed at another part of the sky at the time and could not detect objects above about 20,000 feet.

Civilian pilots reported seeing the flash from Ellensburg, east of the Cascade Range, said an FAA duty officer who did not give her name.

At Whidbey Island Naval Air Station about 40 miles north of Seattle, Petty Officer Andrew Davis said he and others saw the skyburst.

"It made a pretty big bang," Davis said. "We thought it could maybe be a meteorite or something."

In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, about 260 miles to the east, Dick Haugen said he was driving to work at KVNI Radio when he saw a flash that he took to be lightning about 2:40 a.m. — then learned there were no lightning storms anywhere in the region.

Ralph Gaume, head of astronometry at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., said he knew of no likely source from outer space, such as a passing comet or meteor cluster or shower, but added that meteors commonly appear at random.

Astronometry is the branch of astronomy that measures the size and location of celestial objects.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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