Green Meteor Spotted Over Carolinas, Georgia, Was a Somewhat Rare 'Earth Grazer' Says NASA

geminid meteor sky green
A shower of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in this time-lapse image, in August 2009. People in the southeastern United States saw a bright meteor Thursday morning. NASA/JPL

Early Thursday morning, while people were getting ready to head to school and work, an impressive sight streaked across the sky above the southeastern part of the United States. People in the Carolinas, as well as those in Georgia, reported seeing a bright green fireball as it tracked across the dusky morning sky.

The fireball is classified as an "Earth grazer," which is a meteor that enters the atmosphere slowly and has a shallow trajectory through the atmosphere, according to NASA.

As soon as the Earth grazer entered the atmosphere in a bright show, reports started popping up on social media that NASA was able to compile online.

The American Meteor Society posted videos that were submitted to its website by viewers online for others to see as well. People in the videos can be heard calling it a UFO or a shooting star. But NASA says it was a meteor.

Fireballs are actually fairly common, Bill Cooke, lead for NASA's meteoroid environment office, told Newsweek. But what set Thursday morning's meteor apart from others is the time it happened and the fact that it entered the atmosphere at such a shallow angle.

While meteors occur pretty frequently, Earth grazers like Thursday morning's meteor aren't, they're actually "relatively rare," said Cooke.

"They kind of skim along the top of the atmosphere. Some hit at such a shallow angle they literally bounce off the atmosphere," Cooke said. The one that occurred Thursday morning, at about 6:52 a.m. EDT, didn't bounce off though, and because it was traveling at such a shallow angle it stayed in the sky bright and slow for long enough for people to capture it on video and get a good look at it.

Due to the fact that it traveled through the atmosphere for so long, it burned up and no pieces—which would have been considered meteorites—made it to the ground. Not only did the Earth grazer make an extended appearance it also gave off a green light that caught many people's eyes.

"A lot of fireballs are reported with a greenish color and that greenish color comes from oxygen," Cooke told Newsweek. The meteor entered the atmosphere traveling at about 31,000 miles per hour, and as it shot through the atmosphere it caused a reaction that appeared green.

"It's dumping energy in the air and that excited the oxygen molecules and when oxygen gets excited it gives off a green color," Cooke explained. "That's not due to the meteor, that's due to the oxygen in our atmosphere being excited by the passage of the meteor," he said. And the oxygen wasn't the only thing that was excited, spectators were too.