Science: Fireball

At 3:38 on the morning of May 4 an eerie blue-white light flashed across a cloud-heavy sky. Seconds later, a series of explosions and tremors shook houses and rattled windows in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland. Thousands of people, startled awake, flooded police stations and newspaper offices with phone calls. What had happened? No one knew, at first.

Later that day astronomers pieced together the evidence, agreed that a bolide (the biggest kind of meteor), traveling on a west-to-east course just north of Philadelphia, must have exploded and dropped its fragments into the sea.

A bolide is the only noisy type of...

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