03/18/2014 01:45 EDT | Updated 05/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Eyewitness reports of fireball in sky over Maritimes likely a meteor: experts

HALIFAX - Eyewitnesses reported seeing a fireball streaking across the northern skies of the Maritimes and Quebec in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, prompting experts to surmise that what was seen was a meteor.

Rick Parker, who lives along Mattatall Lake near Wentworth, N.S., said he saw through his window a bright light flash when he woke up just before 5 a.m.

"The sky just lit up," said Parker. "What I saw was almost like a ball of fire."

Parker said he only got a brief view before the object fell toward the northern horizon.

"It was the initial flash I guess that lit everything up."

He said he has seen meteors before, but not as bright as what he witnessed Tuesday morning.

Jean Pierre Godin of Bertrand, N.B., about 400 kilometres north of Wentworth, said he was sitting in his chair staring out his window when he saw a bright light that lit up the sky like it was daytime.

"I saw a lot of sparks," he said in an interview with a radio station in Bathurst, N.B. "I got up to look at it (and) it was quite fascinating because it's not every day we see a phenomenon like that."

Godin said the object disappeared on the horizon in the direction of the Gaspe Peninsula. He said it was the first time he has ever seen anything like it.

Astronomer David Lane, director of the observatory at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, said based on the descriptions and webcam images he has seen that captured the event, it appears people saw a meteor, a body of matter from outer space that becomes incandescent as a result of friction with the Earth's atmosphere.

Lane said the object's size would be hard to determine based solely on its brightness and speed. He added that most meteors would be seen at a height of 50 to 150 kilometres above the Earth.

He said it would be rare to find whatever fell to Earth in the Maritimes because of the region's large tracts of wooded terrain as well as its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

"There's only ever been one meteorite found in the Maritime provinces and that's one in New Brunswick many years ago," he said.

Jim Drummond, a physics professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax also believes what was seen was "almost certainly" a meteorite, a rock or metal fragment formed from a meteor.

"They can be all kinds of sizes because it depends a lot on what they are made of and how they come through the atmosphere," said Drummond. "Anything from a pea upwards could be visible, I would think."

RCMP Sgt. Al LeBlanc said he is only aware of one call that may have been related to what was seen when someone in the Truro, N.S., area reported what looked like a yellow flare in the sky.

(The Canadian Press, CKLE)