Panic as meteor blazes a trail through night sky

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The Independent Online
A LARGE meteor tore through the Earth's atmosphere on Friday night, lighting up the sky from the Grampians to Lincolnshire.

Police and fire stations were inundated with calls from people reporting "a ball of fire falling from the sky". Most of the meteor probably burnt up as it passed through the atmosphere, producing the bright light, but part of it may have hit the Earth in Lincolnshire or plunged into the North Sea.

One witness, Neil Smith from South Shields, Tyne and Wear, said he saw a "streak of light" burning across the sky. "The brightness was like Wembley stadium, with huge floodlights around us, lighting up everything,", he said.

Northumberland police said all their telephone lines were busy as people rushed to report the meteor. "A majority of people, particularly those living near the Tyne and the sea, were concerned they might have seen a ship's distress flare."

A spokesman for the London Weather Centre said: "Just before midnight we started getting reports of lightning and thunder. It turned out to be a meteor.

"The reports of thunder over Humberside meant that this was probably the location of the meteor. A meteor makes a whistling noise, similar to thunder, as it burns up in the atmosphere." But he said: "You have to be fairly close to pick up this noise."

The meteor is thought to have been part of the Gamma Aquarid shower which occurs around 28 July each year. As the Earth circles the Sun it sweeps through clouds of dust and small rocks which burn up if they become caught in the Earth's atmosphere.

The clear skies over much of the country and the warm weather meant that a greater number of people saw the meteorites.

The next meteorite spectacle will be the Perseids shower, which will occur between 10 August and 14 August. This has been an annual phenomenon recorded since AD36. But the most spectacular show is likely on 22 December, when the Ursids meteor shower is expected to occur.

Meteor showers are regular phenomena, and around 11 appear every year. In May a basketball-sized meteor passed over Western Australia at a speed of 670,000mph. It woke thousands of residents in Perth before breaking into four main pieces, and is thought to have disintegrated before hitting the ground.

In May last year shooting stars were sprayed across the sky over the south coast of England, prompting a flood of calls to coastguards and police. In Spain, a meteorite smashed through the windscreen of a car near Madrid. The two occupants narrowly escaped injury when it passed between them and crashed into the back seat.