ANDERSON — At first, Rex Baker was unable to identify the object hurtling across the sky in the predawn light on Thursday.
“My first thought was oh, God, don’t let it hit anyone,” Baker said. “I could hear it hissing. I was over in the Middle East during the war and I’ve heard rockets and mortars and that is what it sounded like. I could hear it coming.”
The object was actually a fireball meteor seen by more than 450 people from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin around 7 a.m. Baker, who lives in Pendleton, was one of three people who reported their sighting to the American Meteor Society, Ltd., a nonprofit organization for amateur and professional astronomers to report meteor sightings.
Anderson University associate professor John Millis, who teaches astronomy and physics, said thousands of meteors enter the atmosphere above the United States each year. He said around the world more than half a million meteors burn through the Earth’s atmosphere.
“They are happening all over the area, to actually see one though is very rare,” Millis said.
Baker said he gets up every day around 4 a.m. and will often make coffee and then venture outside to watch the ducks in his pond and get the newspaper. He said it was very quiet and there was no wind, but suddenly he heard a strange sputtering noise and then he saw a bright, white, yellow and orange light streaking across the sky at a 70-degree angle.
“It was traveling in a straight line from west to east parallel to U.S. 36 and then it started breaking up,” Baker said. “I’m sure what I saw was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
A retired member of the Air Force, Baker said his initial reaction was the meteor was some type of warfare.
“It was just a ball of fire,” he said. “Then I thought maybe it was a meteor, space junk or something. It just looked like something entering the atmosphere and burning out.”
Most meteors are tracked by NASA if they pose some form of threat, Millis said.
“It is very rare that they actually reach the ground to do any damage,” Baker said. "Actually, it is extremely rare. A lot of the world is uninhabited or covered in water. There really is nothing to worry about, but it is cool if you saw it.”
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