This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
Great balls of fire indeed.
Folks from Oklahoma City to Houston reported having seen a fireball shoot across the sky at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Astronomers said the fiery display was likely caused by a meteor or some other space matter hurtling through the atmosphere.
Texas observers blogged about the show and described it as a blue-green object trailing sparks.
In central Texas, Little River-Academy Police Chief Troy Hess said he had just pulled over a driver when he managed to capture video of the fireball from his cruiser.
"It kept getting bigger, and the color kept changing," he told the Austin American-Statesman.
No damage was reported from the fireball.
It was not clear whether any of the remnants fell to earth. Meteor sightings are common, with most burning up in the atmosphere and leaving scant debris, according to astronomers.
Anita Cochran, assistant director of the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas, told the American-Statesman that Wednesday's fireball was most likely small space debris.
"The rare case is when it is something big," she said.
"It looked like a sparkler, almost," Lisa Coleman, who lives outside College Station, Texas, told local TV station KBTX.
"There was just this huge meteor-like rock falling across the sky and I thought, 'Wow, that's really huge to be a shooting star,' but it lasted about 12 to 15 seconds and it had a sparkling, flaring tail," Coleman said.
Texas A&M astronomy professor Nicholas Suntzeff told KBTX the meteor was not as huge as it appeared -- probably only about the size of a fist. He attempted to dispel some other meteor myths.
"If they do hit the earth, they are not hot, they are cold. ... There is the fire around them, but ... the meteor itself remains cold," Suntzeff said. "It almost never produces a fire when it hits the earth."
Suntzeff said the type of meteor that residents spotted, likely a bolide meteor, is both bright and rare -- most people will probably never see one again in their lifetime.
"Usually it's just a fraction of a second; here it was like five seconds or so. Again, I've only seen a few of those in my life. I wish I'd seen it," he said.
Another odd fact about this week's fireball: The sighting occurred on the ninth anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia falling to earth over east Texas.
[For the Record, 1:05 p.m., Feb.3: An earlier version of this post -- and its headline -- referred to the meteor as a meteorite. A meteorite is a portion of a meteor that reaches the Earth intact.]
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Video: A Texas police officer's dashboard video camera caught a fiery meteorite streaking across the sky this week. Credit: YouTube