Is This a Video of a Huge Fireball Over Texas?


On April 2, 2012, at around 11:50 am CDT, dozens of people in and around San Antonio, Texas witnessed a bright object streaking across the daytime sky. Most likely a fireball — a particularly large, bright meteor — the object was visible across a very large area. It even made the local WOAI4 NBC news, which sent reporters out to interview eye-witnesses, contacted a NASA meteor expert, and ultimately featured a video of the amazingly bright fireball as it blazed through the sky. Very dramatic.

Except… the video isn’t of a fireball at all.

For the record, there was a meteor spotted over San Antonio on April 2… it was reported on the Lunar Meteorite Hunters site as well as in local papers. The eyewitnesses in the WOAI video were indeed describing what they saw, as well as they could. But the “footage” that was revealed later in the video wasn’t of a meteor; rather, it was something much more terrestrial.

It appears to be an airplane contrail, illuminated by sunlight.

Unfortunately this didn’t stop the segment from airing on TV, or from being picked up by syndicated news over a week later to appear on several online news sites.

(Watch the video here.)

At first glance the video does appear to show something fiery descending from the sky, leaving a long, bright trail in its wake. But that’s exactly how contrails can look when lit up by low-angle sunlight. It’s not necessarily a common sight to most people, but it’s common enough that those who have seen it would recognize that the video was, for lack of a better term, inaccurate. And inaccuracies can all-too-easily spread into a fire of misinformation — especially when concerning “things from the sky”.

Sunlit contrail in Germany masquerading as a fiery meteor (Mick West)

Experienced pilot Mick West describes the phenomenon on his blog

“This is a remarkably common news story: It’s just after sunset, someone looks towards the west and they see the short contrail of a jet plane illuminated by the sun. It looks red, like fire.  They zoom in with their video camera. They don’t know what it is, thinking it’s a fireball, a meteor, or some kind of UFO, so they alert the local media. The local media published it, and occasionally the story grows.”

(Read Mick’s post “Short Sunlit Contrails Look Like UFOs”)

Even though the April 2 fireball wasn’t seen at sunset or sunrise, the video footage wasn’t from the actual event. This means not only is it not of a meteor it’s not even from the right time of day. One has to wonder where in fact it was actually shot from, and by whom.

I don’t know if  the contrail footage was sent in to the news channel intentionally, or if it was just an error due to lack of research. Regardless, it’s a good example of why facts and sources need to be checked!

Luckily there are those who know a contrail from a meteor, and thanks to the miracle of modern social networking such information discrepancies can be rectified in short order.

Hat-tip to Daniel Fischer at Cosmos4U.

14 Replies to “Is This a Video of a Huge Fireball Over Texas?”

  1. I’m more concerned by the statement from the news that they contacted NASA, who informed them that April is “fireball season.” I’ve never heard that before.

    1. Maybe because you are young and have not been reading or observing enough. The April Fireball phenomena has been around for more that 40 years. Some older books have listed possible firebal in April. Not all are associated with the Lyrid meteors.

  2. “it’s a good example of why facts and sources need to be checked!”

    Yes, but these days TV news is in the business of “infotainment”. At best.

  3. Part of me really wants to facepalm vigorously… but at least they’re looking at the sky now and then, which I guess is a positive… 🙂

  4. Hi Beau

    It is true that April is regarded as a Fireball season. I don’t think there is an official explanation but one could speculate that a small asteroid broke up (in space) and the bits re enter from time to time.

    Last week one of our best observers saw a large Fireball over Cornwall UK.

    Brian – Roseland Observatory.

  5. Clearly a jet aircraft. The two engine trails are very obvious. It was lighted? by a setting sun. Classic jet sighting.

  6. “Except… the video isn’t of a fireball at all.”… Do go on, R.P.H.!! lol!

  7. Way to slowly to be a fireball. At first I thought it could be space junk re-entering, but it looks too slow for that and doesn’t appear to break apart. Probably is a back-lit contrail.

    Of course, the media sensationalizes it and gets their facts (and apparently videos) wrong.

  8. I have seen a bolide or fireball. They don’t linger up in the sky, but just as with shooting stars they move quickly across the sky. They traverse most of the angle up to 2pi in a matter of a few seconds or less.


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