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Reported meteor was probably small piece of asteroid, expert says

September 14, 2011 | 11:07 pm

The fireball seen streaking across the southwestern U.S. sky Wednesday night probably incinerated before striking the ground, an expert told The Times.

Thousands of people from Phoenix to Los Angeles reported seeing what they believed was a bright-green meteor.

But the object was probably a "near-earth asteroid" no bigger than a basketball, said Don Yeomans, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory Fellow who manages NASA's Near Earth Object Program.

"It's sort of Mother Nature's shot across the bow," he said. "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."

He said NASA officials checked to ensure that the object was not a wayward spacecraft. "We are fairly confident," Yeomans said, "that it was not a spacecraft or space junk."

Typically, he said, pieces of asteroids enter Earth's atmosphere but go unseen because they are over the ocean.

"They are not as uncommon as you think," he said.


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-- Andrew Blankstein (twitter.com/anblanx) and Robert J. Lopez (twitter.com/LAJourno)