Meteors light up the nighttime sky days before shower's expected peak


The sky is falling!

Not really - but Maryland police officials fielded dozens of calls last night of that magnitude.

"They were calling and saying they saw fire in the sky," said Cpl. John Young of the Baltimore County Police Department.

Sgt. Steve Seipp of the Maryland State Police said his Golden Ring office also fielded a flurry of calls for about 10 minutes straight about 8 p.m.

"Something green was falling from the sky," Seipp said. "They all said it was green."

If you happened to be one of the concerned callers who spotted flashes of light in the night sky, stop the UFO talk.

They were just meteors.

More than likely they were early arrivals from the annual Geminid meteor shower, scheduled to reach its peak starting about 9 o'clock tomorrow night.

Young said calls came from Owings Mills and Parkville. Seipp said most calls to the state police came from the White Marsh area. Carroll County police heard of reports from Towson, Frederick and St. Mary's City.

"There may have been a few stray meteors," said Don Surles of Delmarva Stargazers, a regional group of amateur astronomers. "They're usually very fast and very bright. A few years ago, I saw a fireball come out of them. They could have seen something like that."

The Geminid meteor shower occurs every December, according to a NASA Web site. At its peak, there may be as many as five shooting stars visible every minute, according to NASA.

The meteors, first identified in the mid-1800s, are a mystery to astronomers, according to the agency's Web site. They result from the Earth passing through the debris trail of an asteroid. Asteroids typically don't generate a debris trail, and scientists aren't sure why the one associated with the Geminid shower - 3200 Phaethon - does.

Most meteors are caused by dust-sized debris of comets burning in the Earth's atmosphere.

Les Dorr, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said his agency had received two calls about the meteors.

"It's an annual meteor shower, but maybe the level of activity is higher," said Dorr, adding that the meteors spotted last night had no effect on air traffic.

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