A giant fireball lit up the Texas sky Sunday night

The meteor was probably the size of a small car.
Grant Currin
The AMS event capture.American Meteor Society/YouTube 

According to the American Meteor Society, more than 200 people reported seeing the object — an unusually large and bright meteor — as it flew through the atmosphere at 10:52 P.M. local time.

"Several witnesses near the flight path reported hearing a delayed sonic boom, indicating that meteorites from this fireball may have survived down to the ground," the organization says. People in Louisiana and Oklahoma also reported seeing the fireball. 

What was it?

The fireball people saw streaking across the skies in Texas was an unusually large meteor. Surprisingly, most meteors are very small: roughly the size of a grain of sand. When a meteor the size of a softball or grapefruit burns through Earth's atmosphere, it can produce as much light as the full moon — but only for a few seconds.

The American Meteor Society says last night's fireball was much, much bigger than that. According to their initial estimates, the meteor was probably the size of a small car before it entered the atmosphere and started burning up. 

A giant fireball lit up the Texas sky Sunday night
This map shows where people saw the fireball. Source

"The initial computer generated trajectory shows that this fireball entered the atmosphere over Cistern, Texas and its flight ended Just a few miles west of Austin," the organization says. Since many people reported hearing a sonic boom that shortly after the fireball appeared in the sky, it's possible that pieces of the meteor survived the journey and struck the Earth.

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Fireballs aren't that unusual, but most of them aren't seen by humans. That's because they appear in the sky above oceans or uninhabited pieces of land. So many skywatchers saw Sunday night's fireball because it was visible from several large cities, including Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio. 

It's no surprise that the fireball appeared when it did. That's because three separate meteor showers are fast approaching. The Southern Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricornids will peak later this week, and the Perseids will be fully displayed during the second week of August.