Huge, 'Beautiful' Fireball Filmed Over Indiana, Streaking Across 8 States

A "brilliant" fireball was spotted zooming over Indiana and surrounding states on Friday.

The American Meteor Society (AMS) said it had received around 150 reports and several "spectacular" videos of the fireball, which was seen at 01:52 a.m. ET on July 22.

Most of the sightings came from Indiana, but people in other states including Alabama, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky also reported seeing the event.

Fireball is another term for a particularly bright meteor. Usually, they are brighter than magnitude -4, which is around the same for the planet Venus as seen in the morning or evening sky, according to the AMS.

Meteors, colloquially known as shooting stars, are the streaks of light that we see in the sky when space debris—asteroids or meteoroids—enter the Earth's atmosphere at high speed and burn up in the process.

A meteor
Stock image: Artist's illustration of a meteor. Meteors, colloquially known as shooting stars, are the streaks of light that we see in the sky when space debris enters the Earth's atmosphere at high speed and burn up in the process. iStock

The fireball that was reported on Friday entered the Earth's atmosphere over the town of Advance, Indiana, located northwest of Indianapolis, and is thought to have disintegrated above the area of Burlington, Indiana, which lies to the north of the state capital, according to the AMS.

The fact that there were no reports of a loud boom suggest that the fireball completely disintegrated while it was still at high altitude.

Robert Lunsford, fireball report coordinator for the AMS, told the Indianapolis Star that the flight of the fireball, which headed northeast, likely lasted between three and five seconds based on the reports of eyewitnesses.

Lunsford also said that this fireball was most likely a "random occurrence" and not associated with any particular meteor shower. This is because most meteor showers peak shortly before dawn while this fireball was spotted earlier—close to 2 a.m.

"This fireball became visible at around 75 miles altitude and slowly disintegrated as it lost altitude," Lunsford told Newsweek.

"At its brightest, is was still 50 miles in altitude. Some small fragments may have reached the ground. As for the velocity, I would guess that this fireball hit the atmosphere at around 25 miles per second. The velocity range for meteors is usually 5-45 miles per second."

One person who reported seeing the fireball from Fruitdale, Ohio, identified only as "James O," said in his report to the AMS: "I have seen a lot of fireballs in this part of the sky but this by far was the biggest one so far."

Another person, "Amanda S," who spotted the fireball from Noblesville, Indiana, was also taken aback by what she saw.

"I've never seen anything like what I just saw. It was beautiful, exciting, and prompted me to do quick research and to see who else may have seen it as well," she said in her report.

And Jessica H, who saw the fireball from Columbus, Indiana, said: "All I know is it was massive and amazing to see even if it was only for a few seconds. Breathtaking!"

Fireballs are brighter than the average meteor because the pieces of space debris that cause them are larger.

The majority of meteors are roughly similar in size to very small pebbles and these are already bright enough that they can be seen over large distances. Meteors that are larger—the size of a softball for example—however, can be so bright that the light they produce is briefly equivalent to the full moon in the night sky.

"Visible meteors range down to BB-sized pebbles," Lunsford said. "A golf ball-sized meteor can produce a fireball if travelling toward the upper end of the velocity scale. Since this fireball was brighter than the full moon and of medium velocity, it was probably around two meters [6.5 feet] across before striking the atmosphere."

Update 08/01/22, 09:32 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include additional comments from Robert Lunsford.