On November 23, residents of Key West and the Florida Panhandle saw a fireball light up the night sky, prompting several phone calls to the police and the American Meteorological Society. Many even took to social media, claiming that a UFO was about to land in Florida.
While this flying object did, indeed, cause panic, (the American Meteorological Society reports receiving over 150 phone calls about the incident) it was confirmed that the object was a bolide simply passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Evidently, nearly 500,000 of them pass near our planet each year.
This one, however, was particularly bright. And because it passed through the Earth’s atmosphere around 11pm, it was much more visible than the hundreds of thousands of others that journey near Earth.
Most bolides go undetected because they appear either during the day when sunlight makes the unnoticeable. They also are often hidden when they fly over oceans or uninhabited areas. When they do appear where humans can see them, they can seem alarming and even mistaken as a rare occurrence and can be seen more readily through a telescope.
The Florida bolide is reported to have been moving toward the sea from Anna Maria Island. It was about the size of baseball and moving at 40,000 miles per hour. It began its journey near the Gulf of Mexico and about 8 miles from Sarasota, Florida.
It was said to be more luminescent than the planet Venus, which is partly what made it so noticeable to us Earth-dwellers, and alarming to those who were unprepared for its appearance.
Though the fireball was reportedly seen mostly in Florida, residents of the some locations in the states of Alabama and Georgia were also able to see the fireball.
One meteorologist from Florida stated that the bolide was so bright, one could actually mistake it for the sun.
Many were convinced a UFO was about to land, which explains the panicked calls to several local police stations. Others assumed it was an electrical short that caused the spectacular light.
Facebook commenter Victor Rath shared his experience on the North Port Police Department’s social media page:
“It looked like a flare last night. I was driving on I-75 north at about 11:20 and the thing came right above me and just disappeared slowly.”
Since identifying the object as a bolide, the hysteria has begun to calm down, though some still believe the light may have actually been a UFO.