It wasn't criminal; it was celestial. A police dashcam in New Jersey caught a dazzling sight in the early hours of Saturday: a meteor soaring through the sky in a flash of fiery brilliance. A second or two passes and then with a burst of light, it's gone and the sky returns to blackness.
Hamilton Police Sgt. Michael Virga was on patrol around 3 a.m. when he saw it. "It was a pinpoint in the sky, then a bright lime green streak and then it disintegrated," he tells NPR.
He thought at first maybe it was a firework but was jolted enough to pull over and roll back the video. And sure enough it had recorded a clear view of the display. Virga said a later look at the website of the American Meteor Society, which tracks such sightings, confirmed that many others also saw the meteor.
A meteor comes from a meteoroid, which is a piece of asteroid — really just a bit of rock — that gets close to Earth, heats up and vaporizes in a flash, resulting in the splendid streak of light.
And meteors occur all the time. In the peak month of September, up to eight meteors can be seen per hour, says AMS, as long as one has an unobstructed view and thinks to look up. As NASA says, "Space is a rocky place," and we're bound to encounter some debris as we hurtle along.
A good opportunity to witness a dramatic display could come next week.
The Geminids occur each December and are considered one of the year's best meteor showers owing to their brightness. The display peaks Wednesday, Dec. 13, around 2 a.m. local time. NASA says it can be seen from anywhere across the globe, with the best views away from city or street lights.
Of his own experience, Virga said it was a matter of simply "being in the right place at the right time." After the department posted the video to Facebook, he says, social media have been lighting up about it too.
"It's something different," Virga says.