Daylight Fireball Dazzles Colorado, Grounds Fire Tankers

Fireball Meteor

A dazzling daytime fireball zipped across New Mexico and Colorado yesterday creating a stir among law enforcement agencies, news organizations, radio stations and briefly grounded air tankers fighting wildfires west of Colorado Springs.

According to the Denver Post, Pueblo air-dispatch received reports of “balls of fire or something in the air.” As a precaution, officials grounded flights to ensure no aircraft were hit. Flights resumed 90 minutes later.

The event occurred between 12:35 and 12:40 MDT Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses say the fireball lasted about 3 seconds about 45 degrees above the ground, heading from the north to the south and ending near the horizon, with a tail color ranging from bright white to yellow and red. Some of the nearly 20 reports received by the American Meteor Society report that the brightness of the fireball was brighter than a full moon; some reporting it brighter than the Sun.

A fireball is a meteor that is larger and brighter than normal. Although typically visible after sunset, dramatic fireballs have been recorded during the daytime, such as the April 22, 2012 bright daytime meteor that was seen over California in the US. Usually meteors are smaller than a pebble and move very fast. As the object encounters increased friction from the air in the upper atmosphere, it begins to get hot and glow. Most meteors burn up before hitting the ground. But some survive to be picked up and put in museums. Scientists estimate that nearly 100 tons of space dust lands on Earth every day. Most of it lands in the ocean.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) based at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs told the Denver Post they were not tracking any man-made objects in the area.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has meteor cameras stationed around the state. Unfortunately, they are turned off during the day and no video or pictures have surfaced.

Astronomers and meteor/meteorite enthusiasts will certainly be interested in seeing any pictures or videos of the event, and so are we! If saw the event, or happened to capture it on a camera or surveillance video, you can send it to us or post it on our Flickr page.

Lead image caption: A Perseid fireball meteor. Credit: Pierre Martin of Arnprior, Ontario, Canada.

Fragments of Meteorite Worth Their Weight in Gold

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Actually it’s more like 3.5 times their weight in gold, according to today’s market value… and meteorite experts from SETI and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

During the daylight hours of April 22, 2012, reports came in from all over the north central California area of an extremely bright fireball — described as a “glittering sparkler” — and accompanying loud explosion. It was soon determined that this was the result of a meteoroid about the size of a minivan entering the atmosphere and disintegrating. It was later estimated that the object weighed about 70 metric tons and detonated with a 5-kiloton force.

Read more about the California fireball event here.

Over a thousand meteorite hunters scrambled to the area, searching for any traces of the cosmic visitor’s remains. After a few days, several pieces of the meteorite were found and reported by five individuals, adding up to 46 grams in total.

Those pieces could be worth over $9,000 USD, according to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Based on today’s market, that’s about 3.6 times the value of gold (about $1,660 per troy ounce — 31.1 grams).

The high value is due to the extreme rarity of the meteorite fragments. The California fireball is now known to have been created by a CM chondrite, a type of carbonaceous meteorite with material characteristics similar to comets.

SETI Institute's Franck Marchis and the chondrite fragments (F. Marchis)

According to Franck Marchis, Planetary Astronomer at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute and one of the coordinators of the meteorite reporting teams, CM chondrites appear to have been altered by water, and have deuterium-to-hydrogen ratios in line with what’s been measured in the tails of comets Halley and Hyakutake.

They also have been found to contain organic compounds and amino acids, lending to the hypothesis that such meteorites may have helped supply early Earth with the building blocks for life.

But due to their fragile composition, they are also incredibly rare. Only 1% of known meteorites are CM chondrites, making even the small handful of fragments found in California very valuable.

“This will be only the third observed CM fall in the US, after Crescent, OK, in 1936, (78 g) and Murray, KY, in 1950 (13 kg),” Marchis told Universe Today.

As far as what the finders will do with the fragments, that’s entirely up to them.

“They can sell them on eBay or they can lend them to the scientists… or make a donation.” Marchis said.

Just goes to show that all that glitters really isn’t gold — it could be even better.

Read more in an article by Sara Reardon on New Scientist, and read more on the comet/chondrite connection here. And the ongoing search for pieces of what’s now being referred to as the “Sutter’s Mill Meteorite” can be followed here and here.

The largest CM chondrite ever recovered was from a fall in Murchison, Australia on September 28, 1969. The total mass of its collected fragments weighed in at over 100 kg (220 lbs).

Is This a Video of a Huge Fireball Over Texas?

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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.

Massive Fireball Witnessed Over The UK By Countless Observers

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On the evening of March 3rd 2012 at approximately 21:40 GMT, an incredibly bright fireball/bollide was seen over the United kingdom.

Many people were outside enjoying a clear evening under the stars, or going about their ordinary business when they spotted the amazingly bright object shooting across the sky. Nearly all of the observations from the public from across much of the country described the object as a very bright fireball traveling from north to south and disappearing low in the sky.

The image above is from Mike Ridley, who said, “I was out tonight photographing the global rainbow display at Whitly Bay and saw this bright light hurtling across the sky. I quickly turned the camera to capture it as it flew overhead. With the naked eye I could see it white hot with an orange tail & really low in the sky. I thought it was a massive firework rocket.”

See two videos of the fireball, below.

Most accounts give a duration of around 10 to 15 seconds and the fireball showed a bright orange nucleus with a bright green tail. There was some fragmentation as the fireball ploughed through the atmosphere.

At present, it is unknown whether any pieces of the object survived and hit Earth’s surface, but there is a high possibility that if it did, it landed in the ocean.

June 21 ATV Re-Entry: A Man-Made Fireball In The Sky

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The Johannes Kepler ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) has undocked from the International Space station and will re- enter Earth’s atmosphere on June 21st ending its mission in fiery destruction.

The ATV has been docked with the ISS since February, where it delivered supplies, acted as a giant waste disposal and boosted the orbit of the International Space Station with its engines.

The X-wing ATV delivered approximately 7 tonnes of supplies to the station and will be leaving with 1,200kg of waste bags, including unwanted hardware.

The Johannes Kepler ATV-2 approaches the International Space Station. Docking of the two spacecraft occurred on Feb. 24, 2011. Credit: NASA

On June 21st at 17:07 GMT the craft will fire its engines and begin its suicide mission, tumbling and burning up as a bright manmade fireball over the Pacific Ocean. Any leftover debris will strike the surface of the Pacific ocean at 20:50 GMT.

During the ATV’s re-entry and destruction there will be a prototype onboard flight recorder (Black Box) transmitting data to Iridium satellites, as some aspects of a controlled destructive entry are still not well known.

ESA says that this area is used for controlled reentries of spacecraft because it is uninhabited and outside shipping lanes and airplane routes. Extensive analysis by ESA specialists will ensure that the trajectory stays within safe limits.

There still are some chances to see the ISS and Johannes Kepler ATV passing over tonight, but if you in a location where you can see the south Pacific skies starting at about 20:00 GMT, keep an eye out for a glorious manmade fireball.

A shower of debris results as the ATV continues its plunge through the atmosphere. Credit: ESA

Read more about the re-entry at ESA.