Bob Young's bedroom was black and quiet Thursday morning, just as it normally would be in the hours before sunrise, and the West San Jose resident said he was barely awake.
"Without warning," he said, "the bedroom just lit up. I mean, just lit up. The whole thing. It made me wonder if something had blown up, like maybe a transformer."
Turned out, it wasn't a transformer but a meteor being transformed. The spectacular bright light in the sky that stunned Young and other Bay Area residents was an exploding meteor called a fireball, said Chabot Space and Science Center astronomer Ben Burress.
The flash of light lit up the skies about 5:25 a.m., Burress said. People from as far away as Monterey County and into Nevada reported the fireball to the Space and Science Center, Burress said.
"As near as we can figure, judging from what people have told us they've seen, what we had was a fireball," Burress said. "It's a fairly rare and random event. These things can just come out of the blue."
Fireballs are created when meteors streaking into the atmosphere from space explode, he said.
Young said this particular one lit his dark bedroom like a bright lamp for "at least three or four seconds."
"It was the biggest shooting star I've ever seen in my life," Young said.
Any number of factors can cause the explosion, including the angle at which the meteor enters the atmosphere, Burress said.
"These (meteors) are so small, comparatively speaking, that we can't track them," Burress said. "Periodically, you're going to get incidents like this," Burress said of the fireball.
Young said he watched the Space Shuttle streak across the night sky several years ago, leaving behind a brilliantly lit trail that seemingly ran for miles.
"This," he said, "was even brighter than that. It was incredible."
Rick Hurd covers breaking news. Contact him at 925-779-7166 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.