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Asteroid near Earth: Fireball in Southwest prompts talk of UFO, aliens

September 15, 2011 |  7:39 am

The fireball that streaked over the U.S. Southwest on Wednesday night gave skywatchers a spectacular show -- and prompted immediate speculation on Twitter of UFOs.

But an expert told the Los Angeles Times there was a more natural explanation: It was a likely "near-Earth asteroid," no bigger than a basketball.

Thousands of people from Phoenix to Los Angeles reported seeing the bright streak of light.

"It's sort of Mother Nature's shot across the bow," said Don Yeomans, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory Fellow who manages NASA's Near Earth Object Program. "It's an impressive light show, one of Mother Nature's best."

Yeomans said any object smaller than 30 meters isn't going to cause damage on the ground.

"No one should be concerned," he said. "We basically ran it over."

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-- Kimi Yoshino and Andrew Blankstein

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