Bright fireball over San Francisco Bay, California

Bright fireball over San Francisco Bay, California

A bright fireball streaked above the San Francisco, CA area at 01:35 UTC on December 20, 2018 (17:35 PST, December 19). The fireball was primarily seen from Northen California but people living in Nevada and Oregon also reported seeing the event.

The American Meteor Society (AMS) has so far received 119 reports (by 13:00 UTC) and they are still coming in.

Residents reported a mysterious light with a twisting, smoking tail appearing in the early evening sky, sparking theories that it might have been connected with a planned launch of the secret NROL-71 reconnaissance satellite, scheduled to lift off Wednesday evening atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 

However, the Air Force officials claim controllers called the attempt off about 10 minutes before the planned launch, after noticing an issue with the rocket.

The preliminary 3D trajectory computed based on all the reports submitted to the AMS shows that the fireball was traveling from North-East to South-West and ended its flight somewhere in the Pacific Ocean in front of the San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco fireball December 20, 2018. Trajectory and heatmap courtesy AMS

San Francisco fireball December 20, 2018. Image credit: R. Abiad/AMS

San Francisco fireball December 20, 2018. Image credit: M. Avila/AMS

Featured image: San Francisco fireball December 20, 2018. Credit: R. Abiad/AMS

Register/become a supporter

Support us AD-FREE

Your support is crucial for our survival. It makes this project fully self-sustainable and keeps us independent and focused on the content we love to create and share. 

Monthly subscription

Subscription options

Yearly subscription

Subscription options

You'll receive your ad-free account for 20x faster browsing experience, clean interface without any distractions, ability to post comments without prior editorial check, all our desktop and mobile applications (current and upcoming) ad-free and with the full set of features available, a direct line of communication and much more. See all options.


Richard Mann` 5 months ago

Looks more like a trail left from a rocket launch or a flare. Have never seen a meteor leave a trail such as this. Maybe the Chinese are playing games off the west coast again.

Post a comment

Your name: *

Your email address: *

Comment text: *

The image that appears on your comment is your Gravatar