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Bright flashes light up night sky near Bemidji, elsewhere in region

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Discovering that the sky is blue usually isn't a big deal, unless it's 1:15 in the morning.

That's what happened early Friday when observers from western Minnesota to northern Wisconsin reported seeing bright blue or green flashes of light in the sky.

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The National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D., logged a call at 1:25 a.m. from someone 15 miles west of Bemidji, who reported that the sky looked green.

The weather station then got a report from a sister station in Duluth, which passed along observations from law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin, where what was described as a huge fireball was seen in the sky near the town of Fifield.

Turning the sky blue, the light temporarily achieved midday brightness and reportedly cast sharp shadows, said Bill Barrett, a Weather Service official in Grand Forks.

He said officials suspect the cause of all the excitement was a meteor because this week marks the peak of the Geminid meteor shower.

A Becker County Sheriff's Department deputy was dispatched to investigate two reports of lights in the sky about 1:36 a.m. Friday, Sheriff Tim Gordon said.

The reports came from Highway 10 near Frazee and Highway 34 east of Detroit Lakes.

Nothing was found, but the area was checked to make sure it wasn't a downed plane, Gordon said.

Whatever the object was, ice fog in the sky early Friday likely made it appear closer than it actually was, Gordon said, adding that his department received similar reports of lights in the sky about a month ago, when atmospheric conditions were similar and another meteor shower was occurring.

Friday morning's lights weren't the first reports of odd things in the sky this month.

The night of Dec. 2, residents of Wailua, Hawaii, reported seeing a flaming green fireball that astronomers suspect was a meteor.

Wednesday, a strange light was seen and captured on video in the sky above Skjervoy in northern Norway.

Some have speculated the object was a Russian anti-submarine missile test gone awry.

In the case of the Minnesota/Wisconsin lights, what people likely saw was a fireball, said John Wheeler, a meteorologist with WDAY TV in North Dakota.

While typical shooting stars are caused by pieces of dust falling through the Earth's atmosphere, fireballs are large pebbles that do not reach the ground, but do burn very brightly.

"Generally, for a meteor to strike the Earth, it must be much larger and the result in the sky is overwhelming, often accompanied by an explosion," Wheeler said.

"I have seen three fireballs in my life," he added. "They are not particularly rare."

Dave Olson is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and the Bemidji Pioneer are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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