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Spectacular Meteor Sparks Fireball Over California

  • The Orionids are remnants of Halley’s Comet scattered along its orbit, one of the finest meteor showers in the year. The meteors appear to radiate from a point just between Orion’s club and the Gemini twins’ feet, but may be seen anywhere in thStarry Night Software

  • Lick Observatory posted a video of the California fireball that appeared Oct. 17, 2012. They wrote: "Raw footage of meteor breaking up over San Jose captured by our security camera from the Lick Observatory. (Camera is a little out of focus andLick Observatory (via YouTube as Erik Kovacs)

A spectacular meteor lit up the sky over California Wednesday night (Oct. 17) just days before a highly anticipated meteor shower hits its peak this weekend.

The meteor put on a dazzling display over Northern California when it streaked across the sky at 7:44 p.m. PDT (0244 GMT), according to scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. The subsequent fireball and sonic boom triggered a flood of reports by witnesses to local news stations and authorities, with accounts coming in from across San Francisco and the Bay Area, according to ABC's KGO-TV news station.

"At 7:44:44 pm PDT this evening, a bright fireball was seen in the San Francisco Bay Area," scientists with Ames' Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) wrote in an update. The project is led by meteor expert Peter Jenniskens of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute. "We are checking our CAMS camera results to see if we have a track. Biggest question at the moment is whether this ended over land or ocean."

The celestial fireworks came just days ahead of this weekend's Orionid meteor shower peak, which occurs overnight on Oct. 20 and 21. The meteor shower is created by bits of the famed Halley's Comet as they hit Earth's atmosphere and flare up in fiery display.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has said the 2012 Orionid meteor shower should create dozens of meteors an hour, weather permitting. Because the moon is just a few days past its dark, "new" phase, it won't interfere with the weekend "shooting stars" show. 

The Orionid meteor shower is one of two meteor displays created by Halley's Comet, which makes one orbit around the sun every 76 years. The other is the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which occurs in May. The two meteor showers are created when the Earth passes through streams of dust cast off from Halley's Comet.

Editor's Note: If you snapped a photo of Wednesday night's dazzling meteor and would like to share it with SPACE.com, please send images, comments and your location info to managing Editor Tariq Malik at: tmalik@space.com.

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