LONDON — It was as brief as it was bright. For seven seconds, people across Britain who happened to be casting their eyes to the heavens shortly before 10 p.m. on Sunday were treated to the sight of a fireball meteor that lit up the sky.
One witness described on Twitter “a huge flash” that “burst into a massive tail of orange sparks trailing behind like a giant firework.”
Footage captured by security cameras across England in places including Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire and Solihull showed the meteor flashing brighter and brighter as it streaked across the sky before disintegrating.
The bright flash of light is emitted when an object in space — from something as small as a grain of sand to a hulking behemoth like an asteroid — crosses into Earth’s atmosphere and begins to burn up.
While millions of people might “wish upon a star” when they see the incredible light show in the sky, they are actually wishing on a meteor. If anything survives the journey and lands on Earth, it is then known as a meteorite.
Richard Kacerek, co-founder of the U.K. Meteor Network, a group of amateur meteor spotters, said their cameras detected the meteor at 9:54 p.m. in Wiltshire, England.
“We think it’s a piece of a comet or something softer like an asteroid that hit the atmosphere,” he said.
In this case, the fireball appeared to be moving slowly, he said, meaning it was visible for longer in the sky. Some people reported hearing a sonic boom, however, which would suggest a relatively large object traveling at a high velocity as it sped close to earth.
“The second half of the flight, we could see different pieces falling off it,” he said, and it was possible that some had survived as meteorites.
Hundreds of people from across England and as far north as Scotland and Northern Ireland reported seeing the meteor to the network, Mr. Kacerek said.
For amateur astronomers, the sight of a meteor streaking across the sky is not particularly rare: about three or four of them appear a year.
Still, typically at this time of year, the full moon makes meteors harder to see, said Mr. Kacerek. “This was an exception. This was a very, very bright meteor which overpowered the brightness of the moon.”
For those who were not on the lookout, the meteor was a pleasant surprise.
“It’s always an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime event to see a very bright fireball unless you are like us and watching them and looking out for them,” said Mr. Kacerek. “For normal witnesses to witness something like this is definitely a highlight.”