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Mystery Flash Lights Up Nighttime Sky In Southwest

An apparent meteor streaked through the Southwest’s nighttime sky Thursday evening, transfixing residents from California to New Mexico and briefly turning darkness into day.

The light “just blossomed out into something like a flare or a torch flame. It seemed to have little sparkles coming from it,” said Patricia Dobbins, who saw it from the Griffith Park Observatory.

A Death Valley National Monument park ranger pulled his vehicle to the shoulder, the flash of light so bright it made it “seem like daytime.”

“It was just incredibly bright and then immediately out of the sky,” Calvin Foster, another ranger at Lake Success near Porterville, said Friday. “It looked like a shooting star. My first thought was a flare because it was so bright.”

Foster said the display lasted just two to three seconds.

Meteors - also called shooting stars or falling stars - are bright streaks of light that appear briefly when metallic or stony matter enter Earth’s atmosphere.

“This is probably the biggest flash we’ve seen in two years,” said John Mosley, an astronomer at Griffith Park Observatory. “The meteor was probably a crumbly piece of asteroid, or possibly a fragment of a comet.”

But it also might have been a falling satellite, said Frank O’Donnell, a spokesman for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.