UK

Meteor fireball spotted in skies over Britain

A meteor shower seen over the UK last year. Pic: Pete Lawrence
Image caption Meteor showers, like this one over the UK in 2009, are eagerly sought out by stargazers

Stargazers throughout the UK have reported seeing a meteor-like streak of light in the darkened skies.

The BBC was contacted by people in Scotland, the Midlands, Wales, and northern and south west England who saw the display at about 1740 GMT.

One witness driving home from work in Coventry said the light was a bit scary because it was so "incredibly bright".

Astronomers said the brightness of the meteor, a chunk of space rock burning up in the atmosphere, was unusual.

Dr David Whitehouse, astronomer and former BBC correspondent, said: "It's a bright meteor called a fireball, extraordinarily bright.

"This a chunk of space rock perhaps the size of your fist, perhaps a bit larger, that is burning up as it comes through our atmosphere at an altitude of 60 or 70 miles or so.

'Spectacular'

"So it sounds extraordinary if you're very lucky enough to have seen it. It's quite rare."

Dr Edward Bloomer, an astronomer with the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said the fireball was probably part of the Geminids meteor shower, which happens every year, appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini and will peak on 14 December.

"We are passing through the trail of the comet, and the material that's in the tail burns up when it comes into contact with the Earth's atmosphere," he said.

"A fireball is rather exotic and because it is bigger, it glows brighter and takes longer to break up."

Tina Baxter was driving home when she spotted the meteor-like streak.

She told the BBC: "I was heading north and it appeared directly in front of me. It was travelling east to west.

"At first I thought it was a firework, but it was travelling at a funny angle - across then down.

"It was a bit scary because it was so massive and incredibly bright. When I got home, my brother was there, and he said he saw it as well.

"I would be surprised if anyone took pictures of it - it appeared for three seconds and then it was gone."

Keith Levitt, 67, from Aberffraw on Anglesey, said he went outside to empty shopping from the boot of his car at about 1740 GMT when he saw a bright light above.

He told the BBC: "Initially, I thought it was the light from a plane, then I suddenly realised it was a ball with bits coming away from it. I realised it was a meteor.

"It was a large object, I only saw it for two or three seconds. It was going in a low trajectory then petered out into nothing.

"I've never seen anything so large and so close. I've seen shooting stars but this was quite spectacular because it was so large."

BBC News website readers who were lucky enough to see the meteor have been describing it to us. Here is a selection of their comments.

I spotted the fireball from my living room window at around 1730. It was so extraordinary, I jumped to my feet to get a better look but it was gone. My daughters and son thought I had been on the bottle and have poked fun at me most of the night but I knew what I saw was nothing like I had ever seen before in my life. Carolyn Levitt, Honley Holmfirth, West Yorkshire

I was getting my girlfriend from work when I saw the meteor. I told her about it and was mocked as I told her I'd seen a UFO - jokingly of course. It was like a firework blazing across the night sky. Callum Laing, Kirkcaldy, Fife

My family and I had been shopping and I'd just put the key in the door at home when there was a massive burst of orange light that lit up the square. I thought there'd been an explosion in the house opposite us, but when I turned round I managed to catch a glimpse of the meteor just before it passed out of sight. Rebecca, Catterick, North Yorkshire

I saw the fire ball in Swansea. I was having a cigarette outside when I looked up and saw this bright streak of light going across the sky. It lasted for about four seconds - it was amazing to see. Milton, Swansea, West Glamorgan

Myself and three other members of the RAF were driving up the M6, northbound, through Birmingham when a bright streak appeared above, to the right of the car. Initially, I thought it might have been a low flying fighter aircraft, on reheat, due to the speed of the trail across the sky. Having worked on fast jet RAF aircraft, I quickly realised that the trail was fiery, rather than the blue-white jet exhaust normally associated with a fighter jet at night. There were also fiery sparks coming off the trail, almost exactly as if an aircraft was ejecting flares to deter missiles. Chris Fawcett, Albrighton, Shropshire

I'm glad to read this as I'm not one to "see things" but at 1738 (I checked my watch), I noticed a flash with my left eye out of my living-room, spun around and saw two lights in the sky heading north which made a dip, then disappeared. Paul Collins, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

My six year old and my mum saw it and I told them not to be daft! A big firework travelling along the way? Couldn't be right. Now I know it was a meteor. I'm glad they got this once in a lifetime experience. My daughter is so amazed now. Amber, Fife

I was driving up the M1 towards Milton Keynes when I saw it. Must confess at the time I thought it was a duff firework that didn't explode. It was a white streak of light with a greenish edge to it. Ian Chilvers, Luton

I have seen few things so beautiful in my life. It was exceptionally bright against a clear, inky winter night sky. I put its brightness down to the crisp clear atmosphere of the night. It looked like a ball of yellow fire, tinged with orange at the front and with sparks flying from it. It appeared slower than a regular shooting star. Margaret Gardiner, Glenrothes, Fife

More on this story

Around the BBC