It was travelling three times faster than the speed of sound and it lit up the Maritime sky – and social media – early Tuesday before it ended its journey over Quebec.
Astronomers believe that the bright light, reported by residents from Nova Scotia to Quebec between 4 and 5 a.m. (AT), was a bolide, a piece of rock about a metre in diameter from the solar system that hit the atmosphere and burned out over Quebec.
"There is lots of this stuff floating around [in space]," Saint Mary's University astronomy professor Rob Thacker said. "These things happen reasonably frequently … once every two years."
It caused a sensation, however. Early-morning reports on radio and the Internet were full of news of sightings. A website, tracking these events, quotes a man near Amherst, N.S., which is close to the New Brunswick boundary, describing a multicoloured, white, orange and green teardrop-shaped light that lasted for about 10 seconds. There was no sound.
Prof. Thacker and other astronomers are tracking the route of the fireball through social media, using an aggregator that plots the reports on to a map. It is believed to have started around the Boston area and travelled along the East Coast before petering out over Quebec. He believes that no debris hit the province – but even if it did, the pieces would have been so small as to not form a crater.
"Basically all of the planets in the solar system were formed by things just merging together and forming clumps and bigger and bigger clumps coming together," the professor said in explaining how bolides come into our atmosphere.
"And so all of that material that didn't necessarily get swept up into the planets, there are bits and pieces left over. If you were to look at our solar neighbourhood, you'd see lots and lots of small pieces. There's more smaller pieces than there are bigger pieces."
What is slightly unusual about this one, Prof. Thacker said, is that a sonic boom was heard as it was coming down over Quebec. This indicates that it was close to the ground, but he could not estimate how high it was flying over the Maritime provinces.
Meanwhile, the professor is slightly miffed by all of the attention over this sighting as scientists made a blockbuster announcement on Monday about discovering more information as to how our universe was formed.
"Yes, it's cool, but scientifically it's nothing special," he said.