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Thursday, June 03, 2004 - Page updated at 06:32 P.M.
Meteor lights up sky over Western Washington
"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."
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.
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.
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