'House-sized meteorite' may have been an optical illusion

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ASTRONOMERS were yesterday investigating reports of a "house-sized" meteorite seen crashing to Earth near Sydney, Australia.

Air traffic controllers on duty at Sydney Airport tower reported a meteorite in the sky on Wednesday, but did not give details of its size.

Police said several people just south of the city reported seeing a huge meteorite passing overhead, before exploding.

One motorist travelling on a road 30 miles south of the city reported that the rock was the size of a house, but no trace of it has yet been found and astronomers believe the sighting may have been an optical illusion.

"Extensive police patrols of the area could not locate the object," the force said.

Vince Ford, an Australian National University astronomer, said that searchers were unlikely to find anything.

Whatever was rocketing to Earth probably burned up before it hit, creating the illusion of a large object streaking across the night sky, he said.

If a house-sized meteorite had hit the Earth, it would have made a sonic boom and registered on seismological graphs, Mr Ford added.

More likely was a small rock exploding with a flash.

Professor Steven Williams, of the Grove Creek Observatory, said earlier that he had received phone calls from about six people who said they had seen a "gigantic streak" heading south.

He said he could not explain the phenomenon and hoped somebody would find some trace of the meteorite.

"If I had a helicopter ... I would be out there myself trying to find it," he said.