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Fireball lights up sky over southern states

ATLANTA (AP) ― NASA officials say brilliant lights seen at an outdoor rock concert in Alabama and by eyewitnesses as far away as Georgia and Tennessee came from a meteor that streaked across the night sky.

Officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville said a baseball-size fragment of a comet entered Earth’s atmosphere above Alabama at 8:18 p.m. Central Time on Monday.

NASA officials say the meteor traveled at a speed of 122,310 kph. They say that just three seconds after hitting the atmosphere, it disintegrated 40 km above the Alabama town of Woodstock, producing a flash of light. Woodstock is about 45 km southwest of Birmingham.

Video from NASA shows brief bursts of bright light ― flares ― shooting out from the fireball as it breaks apart.

“Because it penetrated so deep into Earth’s atmosphere, sonic booms were produced, which were heard by eyewitnesses,” NASA spokeswoman Janet Anderson said in a statement.

Music fans at a Mumford & Sons concert at an outdoor amphitheater in Pelham ― about 30 km south of Birmingham ― Monday night also reported seeing a brilliant flash of light.

The meteor, which scientists described as a fireball because it was so bright, was 15 times brighter than Venus, NASA officials said. It was not part of any known meteor showers, they said.

The fireball was as bright as Monday’s night’s crescent moon, which helped it to be seen across a very wide area by many people who were still outside, said Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“It was bright enough and high enough that it was seen pretty much all over the southeast, from Atlanta to Tennessee,” Cooke said. “It also happened pretty close to right on top of Birmingham, Alabama.”

Cooke said officials were checking Doppler Radar sites to see whether any meteorites were detected near the ground.