Bright fireball streaks over Southern Ontario, Northeastern US

This particularly bright Leonid meteor was captured in November of 2009Some sky watchers out to view the grouping of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter got an extra treat on Sunday night as a particularly bright meteor — called a bolide — zipped through the skies a little after 9 p.m. local time.

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Glimpses of the bolide were reported from Maryland in the U.S., to Ajax, Ontario as it burned up in the atmosphere. People reporting the event on American Meteor Society website called it one of the "brightest fireballs [they'd] ever seen" with a wide, bright flame trail.

'Fireball' is the name given to a meteor that appears to be brighter than Venus — one of the brightest planets in our sky, and a 'bolide' is a fireball that burns so bright that it can outshine the full moon. While spotting a fireball is rare, the meteors that cause them aren't; according to the AMS, several thousand occur in Earth's atmosphere each day. So why aren't we seeing blazing chunks of rock all the time? Well, for one thing, 71% of Earth's surface is covered by ocean. Of the remaining 29% of the planet, a fair bit is still uninhabited, and those rocks that do fall over civilization are frequently obscured by daylight. So actually getting to see these celestial visitors is a special treat.

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Your chances to catch sight of a fireball go up somewhat during one of the annual meteor showers that grace our skies. Sunday's fireball was likely part of the IMO #79 shower, but if you want to make plans for the summer, the next major meteor showers on tap are the Bootid meteor shower in late June, and the Delta Aquarid meteor shower, which will spark up the skies in late July and early August.

Did you see this bright meteor streak across the sky on Sunday night? If so, comment below, and add your report to the others on the AMS website.

(Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

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