It wasn’t a bird; it wasn’t a plane. And even UFO experts don’t think it was a spaceship.
“It was a big, bright light; it was not quite round-shaped, and the whole back end was on fire,” said Helen Swofford of Coeur d’Alene.
Witnesses from Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Benewah County say they saw a massive fireball shooting eastward through the night sky Saturday.
“It was low enough down that I really thought it was an airplane coming down,” Swofford said.
Not likely. It probably was a meteor burning its way through the atmosphere, said Lauren Likkel, an assistant professor of astronomy at Washington State University.
Phil Cummings, operations manager at the Coeur d’Alene Airport, agrees. He was standing by a bonfire Saturday when the sky lighted up.
“It was a round, brilliant white and yellow object trailing with an orange sparkling tail,” Cummings said.
He estimates it was 8,000 to 10,000 feet above the ground and approximately 50 feet in diameter.
“It looked like an asteroid coming into the Earth’s atmosphere,” Cummings said, explaining he had seen several while working in Alaska. But “it was probably the closest one to the Earth I’ve ever seen.”
The fireball definitely doesn’t fit the description of an unidentified flying object, said Jerry Rowles. A retired lieutenant colonel with the Air Force, he is assistant state director of the Mutual UFO Network in Spokane.
Flashing colored lights and the traditional saucer and dome-shaped craft are more the earmark of UFO reports. He said debris from satellites and other objects sometimes re-enters the atmosphere in a blaze of glory.
But he still put his bet on a meteorite.
Residents from around the region called various emergency centers at about 10:30 p.m., said Kootenai County Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger. No airplane crashes were reported by either the Spokane International Airport or the Coeur d’Alene airport.
“We get calls like this every time we get a meteor shower,” Wolfinger said.
Meteors are rocks from space that intersect the earth’s orbit and enter the atmosphere. Likkel said some meteoroids are fragments left by a passing comet. Others were created when the solar system was formed.
The meteors most people see flashing through the sky in the form of a “shooting star” are usually about the size of a grain of sand, Likkel said. Most burn up before they ever hit the ground.
But larger ones sometimes do make it to earth and often make quite a show.
The earth is currently passing through the Orionid Meteor Shower, which will peak on Oct. 22, she said.
Meteor or no meteor, Swofford said the burning ball gave her quite a fright.
“It looked huge to me,” she said.
“It was so big it just didn’t look like it belonged there.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.