UFO over Sioux Falls? Experts think it was a meteor

Argus Leader, South Dakota/October 19, 2011

Amie Neustrom doesn't have a good explanation for what she saw in the night sky near her Renner home early Wednesday.

It surprised her and happened so fast that she isn't sure whether it was a meteor or a UFO.

"I really honestly don't know what to think," she said.

It was about 3:30 a.m., and she was on her deck smoking a cigarette when the deck lit up and an orange-and-blue object streaked off, leaving a trail of smoke behind.

"It was quick ...," she said. "I've never seen anything like it. I've seen shooting stars out here. Nothing like this. It was so bright."

Several other Sioux Falls area residents also reported seeing an unusual flash of light in the sky about that time, as well.

At least two people called Metro Communications and five law enforcement officers said they, too, saw the bright light, according to emergency officials. Their locations ranged from Hartford to Brandon and north of Sioux Falls to 57th Street and Western Avenue.

The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls received calls from people near Brandon who saw the unexplained object, said Tim Masters, a technician with the weather service.

But there is an explanation, he said.

"It wasn't a UFO. It was a meteor," he said. "It lit up the sky pretty bright."

There were no reports of an object hitting the ground, he said.

"We just know that it's probably just a little rock that fell through the atmosphere and probably burned up when it fell down," Masters said.

The incident was a random event and not part of a meteor shower, he said.

Neustrom, 38, reported what she saw to Peter Davenport, director of the nonprofit National UFO Reporting Center in eastern Washington state.

People who are unfamiliar with the UFO phenomenon will default to the explanation being a meteor, Davenport said, though the bright light is consistent with a meteor, he said. The only way to tell for sure would be to interview in detail the people who saw it, he said.

"There are many, many events that occur which, when we get into the fine detail ... it seems obviously it could have not been a meteor," Davenport said.

What makes Wednesday's event interesting is that a sheriff's deputy in Denver reported seeing unusual lights in the sky, too. Details of that report are different, and Davenport is unable to say whether they are related.

Sam Clemens, spokesman for the Sioux Falls Police Department, said officers near 60th Street North and Minnesota Avenue and at 57th and Western saw the light, as did a deputy near Crooks and an officer in Brandon. A resident told a 911 dispatcher that the light was like the flash of a camera outside her bedroom window, he said.

The deputy near Crooks said about 3:15 a.m., he saw a meteor shower that was bright, said Sgt. Jerry Winter with the Minnehaha County Sheriff's Department. The light looked as though it started near the Hartford area and was moving east, he said. "They weren't concerned," Winter said.

Masters understands that people get excited about unusual lights in the sky, but often they can be explained. In the night sky, it can be hard to tell distances, too, he said.

"When things are way up there and coming out of the sky, you can see it from a long ways away, and it's really hard to tell how far away it is," he said. "Those who saw it were probably pretty fascinated or scared."

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