Local News

Astronomers Say Meteor Shower, Not UFO, To Blame For Light Show In Sky

Posted October 21, 2003 4:50 a.m. EDT

— People across the Triangle saw bright lights in the sky Monday and thought they were witnessing an alien invasion, but astronomers have an simpler explanation: a meteor shower.

Holly Springs resident Louise Rhoades could not believe her eyes Monday night when she stepped outside to get her mail.

"There were flashes. Two flashes close together and I could tell they were far away," Rhoades said.

Rhoades was not the only one who saw those flashes. Dozens of people from the Triangle to Charlotte also saw the lights and called law enforcement looking for answers.

Astronomers at the Morehead Planetarium explained the Orionid meteor shower happens every year when Earth passes through the debris field of Haley's comet.

Astronomer Bruce Carney said it was rare because Orionids are made mostly of ice that usually melts before it gets too close to Earth and spectacular because they create a bright fireball when they wait until they hit the earth's atmosphere to burn up.

"The object was probably coming into the earth's atmosphere at 20 miles per second, a very high speed and suddenly getting slowed down and all that energy goes into heat and light and you get this wonderful firework in consequence," he said.

The Orionid meteor shower continues over the next few days. Astronomers said if you look to the southeast close to midnight, you might get lucky and spot one.