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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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What was that flash of light over Spokane Thursday night? A meteor or space debris, experts say

UPDATED: Sat., May 23, 2020

Stills show a flash of light believed to be a meteor or space debris passing over the sky in Spokane Thursday night. (Courtesy)
Stills show a flash of light believed to be a meteor or space debris passing over the sky in Spokane Thursday night. (Courtesy)

A bright flash of light caught on many Spokane security cameras Thursday night was likely a small meteor or fireball, area astronomers say.

The flashes of light, seen by many locals and captured on many dash and front-door cameras, occurred just before midnight Thursday. Videos posted on the American Meteor Society’s website show it disappearing after a few seconds.

David Syphers, an astronomy professor at Eastern Washington University, said Thursday night’s meteor was not something area astronomers could predict because it was likely never a part of a comet.

Cody Powell

Meteor showers are created when Earth passes through the path of a comet and debris is caught in the earth’s gravity field and enters the atmosphere. The next meteor shower, called the Perseids, will occur from mid July to late August, according to NASA’s website. It occurs when the Earth passes through leftover particles from the Swift-Tuttle comet.

When a single meteor falls, it is usually either man-made debris from space, such as a satellite, or rock and ice from an asteroid.

He said Thursday’s meteor was likely a piece of space debris or a rock and was likely so small it couldn’t be seen before entering Earth’s atmosphere.

“Those are caused by such small pieces of rock, metal, ice, we can’t see those until they’re here,” he said.

Laura Hangar / The Spokesman-Review

John Benham, an instructor of astrophysics at Gonzaga University and of astronomy at Spokane Community College, said he believes the meteor was a small chunk of asteroid that may have been part of an asteroid belt.

“Every once in a while those will go astray and find their way to Earth,” he said.

If it was a man-made object like a satellite, Benham believes it would have broken up into several pieces instead of staying together. It may also have moved more slowly if it was a man-made object.

He said a very bright flash means the meteor mostly broke up, but a trail afterword means a small piece could have made landfall, though it would take multiple sightings and an expert to triangulate where it could have fallen.

Benham said meteors can and are mistaken for UFOS, but are very common and fall all over the world.

“It’s a natural event,” he said.

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