On what is typically the most quiet night of the week for emergency responders, Spartanburg County 911 phone lines lit up with reports of a loud boom and bright ball of light over the Upstate early Monday.
Dispatcher Scott Francis said 30 to 35 calls to 911 were received, the first one coming in at 1:49 a.m. And that’s not counting the calls that came in on the non-emergency line about the mysterious ball of fire.
A scientist at the Roper Mountain Science Center said it’s likely a meteor exploded over the Upstate early Monday morning, explaining the loud boom and bright light that residents reported seeing from Greenville to Cherokee counties.
Several fire departments, including Reidville, Cherokee, Enoree, Boiling Springs and Cherokee Springs in Spartanburg County were paged to respond to a possible explosion, said Reidville Fire Department Chief Patrick Evatt.
Evatt didn’t see the phenomenon himself, but said his firefighters saw the light and heard the boom while responding to an unrelated call.
“They said it happened very quickly,” Evatt said. The Reidville firefighters were instructed to respond to an explosion in the Berry Shoals Road area.
The National Weather Service also received many calls about the event.
Dr. Charles St. Lucas, a physicist and chair of Roper Mountain Science Center’s department of astronomy, said the phenomenon was a bolide meteor, which was seen at about 1:45 a.m.
“When it explodes, it creates a beautiful fireball,” St. Lucas said.
Bolide meteors explode before hitting the ground. A security guard working overnight at a Greenville County company near Interstate 85 in Piedmont reported seeing a blue-white light and heard the meteor sizzling, St. Lucas said.
“He saw it break up into about three pieces,” St. Lucas said. “It was so close, he thought it would hit his van.”
No injuries or damage were reported.
Meteor showers, which are seen from Earth with the planet passes through the tail of a comet, are common.
“Meteors are quite common,” St. Lucas said. “Bolides are more rare. I’ve seen a couple in my life. This was a rogue object, not something you could predict at all.”
Because eyewitnesses reporting seeing it so closely, it’s likely that the pieces dropped to earth, St. Lucas said.
“In a few days, someone may give me a call and want to sell some to me,” St. Lucas said. “We don’t buy meteors” (at Roper Mountain).
St. Lucas said because eyewitnesses reported a blue-white light, that indicates the meteor was composed of copper or copper chloride, most likely naturally occurring and not “space junk.”
Space junk is released into the atmosphere when satellites or shuttles are launched into space, resulting in booster part mounts, bolts and other mechanical parts breaking off. These components range in size from tiny bolts to pieces dozens of feet long, St. Lucas said.
“There’s no good way of cleaning that up,” he said. “The orbit around our Earth is a veritable junk yard. If there are aliens out there, they might think we’re the junk yard of the universe.”
At least one eyewitness who called Roper Mountain about the early morning phenomenon told St. Lucas that it could have been evidence that someone, or something, else could be out there.
“She said she saw a bright light pointing straight down on her property,” St. Lucas said. “She thought it might be aliens. You never know to respond to those kinds of phone calls.”