Strange Lights Lead to Questions: What's That in the Midwest Sky?

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MILWAUKEE -- Authorities were flooded with curious callers after a meteor streaking across the Midwestern sky looked like a huge fireball.

National Weather Service offices in La Crosse, Wis., Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City, Mo., received numerous reports of the fireball from law enforcement officials and the public.

Mark Hobson from the University of Wisconsin Madison's Space Science and Engineering Center told Fox News he was pretty sure it was a meteor, though it's still to early to tell.

"We are in the midst of a meteor shower," he explained, citing the Gamma Virginids shower that began April 4 and is expected to last to April 21 with peak activity Wednesday and Thursday. Hobson had a camera set up on the roof of the University and was able to observe the event that way.

"As far as I can tell, it looks as if with that big burst of light, it was probably somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 feet up," Hobson told Fox News, pointing out that this explains why the meteor was observed over such a wide area.

"We have no reports of an impact at all," he added, explaining that "99.99 percent of the time the meteors that come into the atmosphere burn up on entry -- that's what we see as the trail of the shooting star, but generally not this large."

Is it conceivable that it was piece of space junk, on the other hand?

"It could possibly have been a piece of space junk, it's just kind of hard to tell at this point. But this sort of thing happens on occasion, so most likely it's a meteor."

Witnesses say the meteor lit the sky about 10:15 p.m. Wednesday. Jeff Boyle says he was on his way home from work in Waukesha (WAH'-keh-shaw) when he saw a ball in the sky with a huge tail that was as bright as the sun. Others report hearing loud sonic booms at the same time as the light.

Forecasters couldn't immediately confirm if the Midwest meteor was part of the Gamma Virginids shower.

"We're pretty sure it's not E.T. phoning home," Hobson joked. "Pretty darn sure."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.