Wanaka UFO probably 'daylight meteor'

A bright, ''sparkly'' silver object seen falling from the western sky on Sunday afternoon was probably a rarely seen daylight meteor.

The Otago Daily Times has had reports of about a dozen people in at least six locations seeing the object between 2.45pm and 3pm on Sunday.

Mark Davis, of Wanaka, saw an ''extremely bright'' silver light dropping to the earth as he was driving from Omarama towards the Lindis Pass at 2.45pm on Sunday.

He glimpsed it only briefly and described it as ''sparkly''.

Three people, including Wanaka farmer John Leith and Chris Scott, of Christchurch, saw it from West Wanaka.

Mr Leith said it was a ''silver flash'' coming out of the sky.

''It looked almost like three rockets joined together with their tails pointing towards the earth.''

It was travelling so fast he did not even have time to say to others in the group: ''Hey, have a look at this.''

And Ms Scott said it was just like a shooting star.

''It was very silvery; like a sparkler glittering.''

Sean O'Connell, of Wanaka, and his golfing partner saw the object passing over Mt Roy where ''it seemed to splutter out''.

''Definitely bright; had a sparkly, fiery trail, and some smoke.''

Mr O'Connell said the object, which he assumed was a meteor, seemed to ''fizz'' and was similar to a flare but higher and faster.

Dunedin tramper Doug Miller was heading due west on the Packhorse Trail between Lowburn and the Pisa Range when he saw a ''fireball'' falling west before it disappeared behind the mountain range.

''It was pretty impressive. It seemed to be quite wide and quite close,'' he said.

The University of Canterbury's Mt John Observatory superintendent Alan Gilmore said from the descriptions the object was likely to have been a ''daylight meteor''.

''They are pretty rare because they have got to be exceedingly bright to be seen.''

Mr Gilmore could recall just two previous occasions when daylight meteors were reported in New Zealand - one in Hawkes Bay in 1971.

The brief and ''sparkly'' appearance of the object supported the idea it was a meteor.

''They are very fast and so generally you don't see them for much longer than a second, unless they are on a very low trajectory.''

Meteors were falling all the time, but to have been visible, the one on Sunday would have been bigger than usual.

He said at a ''wild guess'' it could have been as big as a baseball to begin with but would have burnt out before hitting the ground.

''If the same thing had happened at night time it would have been quite spectacular. It would have lit up the whole countryside.''

The meteor was also seen in Queenstown.

Susi Thompson, of Dalefield, described it as ''a cluster of sparkling silver lights, similar to a fireworks, dropping from the cloudless blue sky''.

''As they disappeared they exploded outwards - even more like a firework.''

Ms Thompson said a trail of smoke or vapour remained visible for about a minute and there was also a ''single booming sound like a thunderclap''.

Grant McLennan, of Queenstown, while boating on Lake Wakatipu just off Cecil Peak Station, saw a ''large fiery ball in the western sky'' with a smoky tail.

''For some time, we were concerned it was a plane going down and checked the internet to make sure nothing had happened.''

And James Bonnar, in Cromwell, saw the meteor with a long yellow and red tail while sitting outside his home.

''It shot over the sky at such speed that my wife, who was sitting beside me, never noticed it.''

mark.price@odt.co.nz