Officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville said a baseball-size fragment of a comet entered Earth's atmosphere above Alabama at 8:18 p.m. Central Time on Monday.
NASA officials say the meteor traveled at a speed of 76,000 mph. They say that just three seconds after hitting the atmosphere, it disintegrated 25 miles above the Alabama town of Woodstock, producing a flash of light. Woodstock is about 30 miles southwest of Birmingham.
Video from NASA shows brief bursts of bright light -- flares -- shooting out from the fireball as it breaks apart.
"Because it penetrated so deep into Earth's atmosphere, sonic booms were produced, which were heard by eyewitnesses," NASA spokeswoman Janet Anderson said in a statement.
Music fans at a Mumford & Sons concert at an outdoor amphitheater in Pelham -- about 20 miles south of Birmingham -- Monday night also reported seeing a brilliant flash of light.
The meteor, which scientists described as a fireball because it was so bright, was 15 times brighter than Venus, NASA officials said. It was not part of any known meteor showers, they said.
The fireball was as bright as Monday's night's crescent moon, which helped it to be seen across a very wide area by many people who were still outside, said Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
"It was bright enough and high enough that it was seen pretty much all over the southeast, from Atlanta to Tennessee," Cooke said. "It also happened pretty close to right on top of Birmingham, Ala."
Cooke said Tuesday morning that officials were checking Doppler Radar sites to see whether any meteorites were detected near the ground.
"I kind of doubt that there are any meteorites on the ground from this event," Cooke said. "It was kind of a spectacular fireworks show, but I don't think at this time there are any meteorites on the ground."
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