On the night of Tuesday, Oct. 4, the Police and Fire Services in Toronto received calls about a giant fireball streaking across the sky. The American Meteor Society also received more than 700 reports from eyewitnesses mainly from Ontario, but also from Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, the District and Virginia.
According to Mike Hankey, operations manager for the American Meteor Society, the number of reports places this bizarre occurrence in "top 10 events of the year." Some of the reports also mentioned a sonic boom, which can usually be heard within a 50-mile radius of the fireball's sighting.
"To have that echoing sound means it has to get pretty close to the surface. It penetrated the Earth's atmosphere deep enough to create a sonic boom," said Hankey.
The occurrence was also followed by a number of trending hashtags on social media, such as #meteor and #fireball. The University of Toronto Scarborough Observatory even captured the event on video.
"What struck me is that people from Canada to southern Maryland saw it. That means it was pretty bright," added Hankey.
Mass sightings are not a very common thing to occur, as no more than 10 fireballs or meteors are seen (let alone heard) during a year. The last major fireball was spotted in June in Arizona, which NASA said was reported to have "a lot of light and few sonic booms."
The most recent popular event of this nature happened in Russia in 2013, when a meteor exploded over the country, and hundreds of people were injured when the shock wave shattered the windows of buildings nearby. Another meteor was witnessed exploding in 2014.
Members of the scientific community see this as an extraordinary opportunity. Having so many reports from a single event makes it powerful, something Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories, was excited about.
"There may be other sources of data we never had in the past. I think it's pretty exciting to think about mapping out the shock wave and getting more information about this than we've ever had from any past events," Boslough told Live Science in a 2013 interview about the meteor explosion.
The theories surrounding the latest event suggest that the fireball is part of the Orionid meteor shower, which is set to occur from Oct. 4 to Nov. 14 this year.
"The Orionids, formed from the debris of Halley's comet, are known for being bright and quick," noted NASA. The specialists also advise dressing for the cold when looking for shooting stars, as well as sitting or lying down to make sure you enjoy the meteor-watching and not abandon it because of uncomfortable conditions.