Fireball Meteor or Re-Entering Satellite? “Something” Broke Up Over the UK on Friday

Twitter is all abuzz with sightings of a huge fireball meteor that streaked across the skies Friday night at approximately 22:00 UTC. There are reports from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Central England.

I’m going to link a bunch of videos so you can check out the event from multiple angles, but I want to make a completely unscientific judgement: it kind of looks like a re-entering spacecraft. Take a look at what the Jules Verne spacecraft looked like when it came back into the Earth’s atmosphere. See how it broke up into all those pieces? And don’t let anyone fool you with this picture. It was taken about 3 years ago in the Netherlands.

Phil made a similar observation, but he’s still on the fence. We’ll have to wait for someone official to tell us what it was.

Did you see it? Did you get a video?

I’ll give you an update as soon as I know anything else.
Continue reading “Fireball Meteor or Re-Entering Satellite? “Something” Broke Up Over the UK on Friday”

Fires in the Sky: Aurorae and Meteor Photo by Ole Salomonsen

A bright fireball slashes through curtains of aurorae shimmering above the mountains of northern Norway, captured on camera by Ole C. Salomonsen in the early hours of September 20.

Salomonsen, a master at photographing the Northern Lights, says this was the biggest fireball he’s ever caught on camera.

“The fireball lasted for about 6-7 seconds until it vanished behind the mountain,” Ole recalls. “By the way, this mountain is over 1350 meters (4440 feet) high, and I am standing only 600 meters from the foot of it, so do not be fooled by the 14mm wide angle lens! There was some very distinguished blue colors surrounding the fireballs edges. Never ever seen anything big like this!”

The mountain at right is called “Otertinden”, and is about a 90 minute drive north of Tromsø, Norway — a hot spot for stunning auroral displays.

And if you’re wondering if the aurorae and the meteor are really in the same region of the atmosphere, well, they likely are. Incoming meteoroids begin to glow at around 70 to 100 km up, which is also about the same altitude that aurorae are visible.

Although Ole stated that this wasn’t the best aurora photo from the shoot, the fireball and its reflection in the still river made him feel this one “deserved to go first.”

The photo was taken with a Canon EOS 1D-X and a Nikon 14-24mm lens.

See more of Ole’s work on his website, www.arcticlightphoto.no, and you can like his page on Facebook here. (Also he’s got a couple of great time-lapse videos too!)

Image © Ole C. Salomonsen. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Video of California Daytime Fireball Surfaces

Dr. Peter Jenniskens take a closer look at the image from the AVS Cineflex HiDEF camera mounted on the nose of the Eureka Airship. Mike Coop, can be seen in the background checking the map, further back other flight members continue to look for potential impact sites. Image credit: NASA / Eric James

Video footage has finally surfaced of the daytime fireball that illuminated the sky over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California back in April. NASA and the SETI Institute had asked the public to submit any amateur photos or video footage of the event, and previously a just few photos were taken of the event, even though it happened in broad daylight and created sonic booms that were heard over a wide area, back on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 7:51 a.m. PDT. A few weeks later, Shon Bollock, who was making a time-lapse kayaking video just outside Kernville, California realized he had captured the bolide streaking through the air. This video shows the event several times, successively zooming in for a closer look. According to NASA it is the only footage of the meteor thus far.


Meteorite hunters have been successful in locating fragments of the meteor, now called the Sutter’s Mill meteor since the event occurred near the area famous for where gold was discovered back in 1848, creating the California gold rush.

NASA estimated fragments could be dispersed over a 16-km (10-mile) area.

Phil Plait says the video is being studied by astronomers and meteoriticists to try to calculate the trajectory, speed, and possible orbit of the object, which is difficult with just one video, so if anyone finds they have ‘accidently’ taken footage of the event, contact the NASA Lunar Science Institute at the NASA Ames Research Center.

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NASA used an airship to search for meteorites from this event. Noted meteorite expert Peter Jenniskens said the meteorites found so far from the fall are Carbonaceous Chondrites from the CM group of meteorites, “a rare type of primitive meteorite rich in organic compounds,”and scientists have precious few samples of this kind of material. The meteorites are very interesting to scientists from an astrobiology perspective, as they contain molecules related to how the building blocks for life on Earth may have been delivered from outer space. Scientist believe that this meteor could hold the answers to the origin of life on Earth and the universe. By studying the meteor, scientists also will learn more about the early solar system and the formation of our planets.

“This is among the most chemically primitive meteorites,” said NLSI Deputy Director Greg Schmidt. “It’s like asking ‘how did life on Earth begin?’ and then having a fossil fall right in your back yard. This is exciting stuff — who knows what’s inside? The Sutter’s Mill Meteorite could be the most profound sample collected in over 40 years.”

Via the Bad Astronomer

Meteor Shower Timelapse Seen from the Space Station

Just as the Lyrid Meteor Shower was peaking on April 21, 2012, astronaut Don Pettit captured this incredible timelapse sequence from the International Space Station. Of course you can see the familiar view of cities sweeping beneath the station as it orbits the Earth, but if you watch carefully, you can see the bright flashes of meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The timelapse was made up of 310 individual frames captured during that evening, which were then stitched together into a single video.

Astrophoto: Meteor Fireball Passing through the Milky Way

A northern Minnesota lake reflects a large meteor fireball. Credit: Luke Arens.

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Northern Minnesota is famous for its bountiful lakes, and clear, dark skies. This beautiful astrophoto combines both — and more — as photographer Luke Arens captured a big meteor fireball reflecting off a northern Minnesota lake just as the Milky Way core rose above the scene. Luke took this image over the weekend as part of a timelapse sequence, which he says will be available soon. Update: see the timelapse below!

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group, post in our Forum or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Meteorite Hunters Find Fragments from the Recent ‘Daytime Fireball’ in California

Meteorite expert and researcher Peter Jenniskens with a fragment of the bolide seen over California on April 22, 2012. Image via Franck Marchis' Cosmic Diary blog.

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Meteorite hunters have been successful in locating fragments from the huge meteor visible in the daytime skies over California last weekend. One of the successful hunters was Peter Jenniskens, an expert in meteors and meteorites, perhaps best known for retrieving the fragments of asteroid 2008 TC3 which fell in Sudan in 2008. Astronomer Franck Marchis wrote in his Cosmic Diary blog that Jenniskens realized the size of the California meteor was very similar to 2008 TC3, and so fragments should have reached the surface, just like they did in 2008.

Jenniskens went out searching and found a four-gram fragment of the meteor in a parking lot in Lotus, California.

Update: NASA and the SETI Institute are asking the public to submit any amateur photos or video footage of the meteor that illuminated the sky over the Sierra Nevada mountains and created sonic booms that were heard over a wide area at 7:51 a.m. PDT Sunday, April 22, 2012.


Marchis wrote that several scientists from the Bay Area met at NASA Ames Research Center on April 24 to discuss a strategy for a search campaign, examining a radar data map which showed that dozens of fragments from the 100g to 1 kg range may have reached the ground.

Jenniskens said the fragment he found was a Carbonaceous Chondrites from the CM group of meteorites, “a rare type of primitive meteorite rich in organic compounds,” he said.

“We are very interested in this rare find,” said Greg Schmidt, deputy director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. “With the public’s help, this could lead to a better understanding of these fascinating objects.”

Several other fragments were found, the first one by noted meteorite hunter Robert Ward.

“Getting fresh fragments of meteoroids, called meteorites, is key for astronomers to understand the composition of those remnants of the formation of the solar system,” Marchis wrote. “Fresh fragments are unaltered by the Earth’s weather and erosion processes, so they are pristine samples which can be used to detect organic materials for instance.”

Photos and video footage would help the scientists to better analyze the trajectory of the meteor and learn about its orbit in space. This information will also help scientists to locate the places along the meteor path where fragments may have fallen to the ground.

People who have photos or video of the meteorite are asked to contact Jenniskens at [email protected]

Marchis noted that a storm is heading towards the region and rain could alter the remaining fragments. So if you live nearby, consider heading out to take a look. Here is the radar map:

Radar map by Marc Fries showing the possible location of fragments (green area) of the meteor between Auburn and Placerville.

Marchis also said that if anyone has access to security camera footage taken on April 22, 2012 in the area of the fireball sighting, it may be useful to check them to see if the fireball was visible. “Astronomers could use them to pin down the site of the fall, maximizing the hunt for fragments,” he said.

Read more at the Cosmic Diary.

Recent Fireball Seen in Brazil Was Actually Re-Entering Centaur Rocket

UPDATE: After hearing from several experts, this fireball was likely NOT a re-entering rocket body. Bob Christy from Zarya.info confirmed that the two videos were reportedly made around 20:00 – 21:00 UTC, and according to SpaceTrack, the Centaur re-entered about 19 hours earlier at 01:23 UTC. Additionally, the re-entry ground track did not cross Brazil at a correlating time. Dr. Marco Langbroek from SatTrackCam concurred there is no chance this was a Centaur rocket. “Looking at the videos, to me it looks like a very slow, grazing meteor.”

We recently posted a video of a huge meteor streaking over the skies of Brazil. It turns out this wasn’t your average, ordinary, everyday meteor. It was actually a Centaur rocket body re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, according to fellow NASA Solar System Ambassador Eddie Irizarry. “An amazing video that shows a fireball lasting more than 30 seconds captured the reentry of a Centaur rocket body that was launched on 1985,” said Irizarry in an email, reporting for the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe, the Puerto Rican Astronomy Society. “The object was seen from southeast Brazil by hundreds of people on April 20, 2012 and on the same date, Intelsat 5A12’s rocket body was about to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, passing exactly over the ground track from which some people were able to capture amazing images,” reported Irizarry.

There’s a second video below, as well as a map of the area the fireball was seen.

Thanks to Eddie for sharing his insight.

More information about the Solar System Ambassador program.

Fireball Over California Exploded with Force of 5 Kilotons

Location of daylight (8 AM) fireball over California on April 22, 2012. Credit: NASA's Meteor Watch

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A daytime fireball over the skies of central/northern California on Sunday morning, April 22, 2012 caused a loud explosion and the event was also detected on several seismographs stations in the area. According to Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office, the source of the blast was a meteoroid about the size of a minivan, weighing in at around 70 metric tons (154,300 pounds) and at the time of disintegration released energy equivalent to a 5-kiloton explosion.

For comparison, conventional bombs yield energy from less than 1 ton to 44 tons, and the approximate energy released when the Chicxulub impact caused the mass extinction 65 million years ago was estimated to be equal to 96 million megatons of TNT.

“This was a BIG event,” said Elizabeth Silber of the Meteor Group at the Western University in Ontario, Canada.

“Most meteors you see in the night’s sky are the size of tiny stones or even grains of sand and their trail lasts all of a second or two,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Fireballs you can see relatively easily in the daytime and are many times that size – anywhere from a baseball-sized object to something as big as a minivan.”

Silber estimates the location of its explosion in the upper atmosphere above California’s Central Valley. It is not known yet if any pieces of the space rock survived to land as meteorites, but the entire object was likely vaporized before hitting the ground. However, you can bet there are people out looking. (Silber said on the Meteorobs newsgroup that based on infrasonic data the approximate source coordinates are 37.6N, 120.5W).

Descriptions of the fireball range from a “silver flash” to like a “green glittering sparkler,” and one person said their sighting of the object was followed 4-5 minutes later by a loud sonic boom.

Unfortunately, since the huge fireball occurred during the day, all of NASA’s meteor-seeking cameras were turned off, so images of the event are sparse. You can see some at news station KTVN’s website.

This type of fireball is quite rare, and visual observations of them are even more rare. “An event of this size might happen about once a year,” said Yeomans. “But most of them occur over the ocean or an uninhabited area, so getting to see one is something special.”

That the fireball occurred during the Lyrid meteor shower is probably a coincidence, most experts are saying, as meteor shower meteors are generally small bits space dust that don’t produce large fireballs. However, another large fireball also occurred on April 20 in Brazil. See more information about that bolide here.

Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks April 21/22, 2012

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You can take some meteor showers to the bank, like the Leonids, Perseids and Geminids. Other showers are more spikey; they can underperform one year, with just a few dozen meteors an hour, or boost up to hundreds in an hour – a full on meteor storm! Our next meteor shower, the Lyrids, is one of those examples, especially when the peak night coincides with a new Moon: April 21/22, 2012. Is it going to be amazing this year? There’s only one way to find out – get outside, and look up.

The meteors come from Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1); the trail of debris left behind as it makes a 415-year highly elliptical journey around the Sun. And each year the Earth passes through this trail, scooping up the the tiny particles of ice and dust and annihilating them in the atmosphere. Thatcher’s loss is our gain.

They’re named for the constellation Lyra, since the meteors appear to emanate from a region just off to the side of the familiar constellation – the bright star Vega is part of Lyra. Don’t just look at that one spot, though, meteors can be seen anywhere in the sky.

Each year the Lyrids start to build around April 16, peaking on April 21/22, and then fade away by April 26. At the peak, the Lyrids can deliver 10-20 meteors per hour. But there can also be spikes of activity, with more than 100 meteors per hour, as the Earth passes through clumps in the dust trail.

It’s almost impossible to know, in advance, if it’s going to be a great year for any specific meteor shower. But this year’s Lyrids Meteor Shower coincides with a new Moon on April 21. Without the glare of a bright Moon, the meteors are easier to spot.

You can see the shower from any spot on Earth, just head outside on the evening of April 21, and give your eyes time to adjust to the dark skies. Get out of the glare of a city if you can, to a dark enough location that you can see the Milky Way once the skies have fully darkened. Here’s a handy map you can use to find dark sky locations in the US.

Of course, meteor showers are best shared with friends. Gather together some fellow astro-enthusiasts, pack some warm clothing, and enjoy the sky show. If you can, try to time your viewing as late as possible, or even in the early morning, when the sky has fully darkened and the stars are really bright.

And be patient. It might take a few hours, but you could be lucky enough to see a Lyrid fireball blaze across the sky, burning a trail into the night sky for a few moments. Just one fireball will make your whole evening worth while.

Is This a Video of a Huge Fireball Over Texas?

Is this amazing footage of a fireball over San Antonio on April 2?

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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 ContrailScience.com:

“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.