Around 8 a.m. Sunday morning, reports of a loud explosion and a fireball streaking through sky over the California/Nevada border had local law enforcement agencies, astronomers and doomsday soothsayers alike all scrambling for answers. The fireball was spotted as far as away as the Bay Area and Las Vegas before the meteor broke up over the Sierra Nevada and reportedly crashed to Earth in Nevada, just over the border from South Lake Tahoe.
Residents in the area of South Lake reported hearing a "crazy loud boom" that rattled windows, shook houses and knocked at least one woman off her feet. Hardly the Mayan apocalypse we've been bracing ourselves for, but according to Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society (sidenote: awesome), the explosion was probably a sonic boom, which indicate the meteor made it close to the Earth's surface before breaking up. Most fireballs (or your classic shooting stars, if you want to be less dramatic with your terminology) are visible about 50 miles over the planet, but Lunsford believes this one must have made it within five miles of the ground. No real earthquake activity was reported but USGS notes that the shockwave from the sonic boom was strong enough set off seismographs around the area.
Although the Lyrid meteor shower was hitting its peak around the same time Saturday evening/Sunday morning, astronomers from the University of Nevada, Reno believe Sunday's fireball sightings were merely coincidental. Tahoe area blog Unofficial Networks also notes that NORAD received reports claiming chunks of flying space rocks may have hit the earth near Kingsbury Grade, Nevada just across the border from South Lake Tahoe, but those reports are still unconfirmed as NASA and the American Meteor Society attempt to figure out the meteor's trajectory based on the handful of sightings flooding in.
Anyhow, it sounds like this thing was a sight to behold. One Reno area resident managed to grab some amazing photos of the meteor before it disappeared beyond the horizon. And as one San Francisco resident told the Associated Press after seeing the bright green, red and white fireball: "I have never witnessed something so amazing and puzzling. It is an event that makes you glad to be alive." Alive until the big one wipes us all out on December 21st, that is.