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Fireball confirmed as debris from Taurid comet, scientists say

November 08, 2013|By Ari Bloomekatz

The source of the large fireball that streaked over Southern California on Wednesday has been traced to debris from the Comet Encke, local researchers and scientists said Friday.

The fireball, which according to the American Meteor Society could be seen Wednesday night as far away as Utah, Arizona and Nevada, was tied to long-lasting meteor streams from the annual South Taurids meteor shower.

Scientists on Friday said the Comet Encke, debris from which causes the Taurids, completes its orbit of the sun roughly every three years, the shortest of any known comet, according to NASA.

Witnesses who reported seeing the fireball to the American Meteor Society described it as "awesome" and "not the average shooting star."

"I was a little startled but awed by it," Rachel V. from Long Beach posted on the society's website.

David Reitzel of the Griffith Observatory said that despite Comet Encke's comparatively short orbit around the sun, it gives a good show at a much less frequent pace.

"We have a good encounter with it every 33 years," Reitzel said, adding that the debris from the comet was probably the size of a billiard ball or baseball.

Paul Chodas, a researcher at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, agreed that it was likely debris from Comet Encke but believed the streak was caused by a "beach ball-sized" piece of rock or debris.

Chodas said that despite 99% of the fireball disintegrating or vaporizing into dust, meteorite hunters would surely be looking for anything that hit the ground.

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Twitter: @aribloomekatz | Facebook

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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