Date: Mon, Oct 14, 1996 9:52 PM PDT
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The eerie green flash that lit up night skies throughout the West two weeks ago was a meteorite that skimmed off the Earth's atmosphere like a skipping stone, scientists said Monday.
The big chunk of space rock apparently entered the atmosphere over New Mexico and Texas, bounced back into space and orbited the Earth before re-entry in a blaze of light northeast of Los Angeles.
``It's two events, the same object,'' said meteorite specialist John Wasson of the University of California, Los Angeles. Scientists had never before observed a meteorite's re-entry, but theorized it was possible.
He and Mark Boslough, a physicist from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., announced the scenario after comparing observations reaching their electronic mailboxes from lay observers.
Under their scenario, the object first entered Earth's atmosphere about 8 p.m. MDT on Oct. 3 east of Las Cruces, N.M., headed east-northeast and slowed while it descended at a shallow angle toward the Texas Panhandle.
It came the closest to Earth's surface near Artesia, N.M., where it began breaking apart, spraying a brilliant shower of lesser meteorites extending at least as far as Lubbock, Texas.
The biggest fragment hurtled back into space at 18,450 mph -- too slow to escape Earth's gravity -- and briefly became a small moon, making a single, 100-minute orbit of the Earth.
It re-entered the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean and passed over the California coast near Point Conception. The mass, glowing with heat from the re-entry, continued its journey just north of Bakersfield.