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.

Meteorite Alert! Remote Cameras Capture Slow-Moving Fireball near Toronto

The huge fireball event as seen from a remote camera in Orangeville, Ontario. Credit: University of Western Ontario

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In newly released footage from the University of Western Ontario, a bright, slow-moving fireball was captured in the skies near Toronto, Canada on December 12, 2011 by remote cameras watching for meteors. Although this meteor looks huge as it burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, astronomers estimate the rock to have been no bigger than a basketball. Footage reveals it entered the atmosphere at a shallow angle of 25 degrees, moving about 14 km per second. It first became visible over Lake Erie then moved toward the north-northeast.

See below for the video.

But in a meteorite-hunter alert, Peter Brown, the Director of Western’s Centre for Planetary & Space Exploration said that data garnered from the remote cameras suggest that surviving fragments of the rock are likely, with a mass that may total as much as a few kilograms, likely in the form of many fragments in one gram to hundreds of a gram size range.


“Finding a meteorite from a fireball captured by video is equivalent to a planetary sample return mission,” said Brown. “We know where the object comes from in our solar system and can study it in the lab. Only about a dozen previous meteorite falls have had their orbits measured by cameras so each new event adds significantly to our understanding of the small bodies in the solar system. In essence, each new recovered meteorite is adding to our understanding of the formation and evolution of our own solar system.”

Brown and his team are interested in hearing from anyone who may have witnessed or recorded this event, or who may have found fragments of the freshly fallen meteorite. See UWO’s website for contact information.

Another camera view of the meteor:

Western Meteor Group’s Southern Ontario Meteor Network sensor suite has seven all-sky video systems designed to automatically detect bright fireballs.

At 6:04 p.m. on December 12, six of the seven cameras of Western’s Southern Ontario Meteor Network recorded this meteor. In a press release, UWO said the fireball’s burned out at an altitude of 31 km just south of the town of Selwyn, Ontario. It is likely to have dropped small meteorites in a region to the east of Selwyn near the eastern end of Upper Stony Lake. See the map of the projected path below.

Although this bright fireball occurred near the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, the astronomers say it is unrelated to that shower.

Estimated flight path of the Dec. 12, 2011 meteor seen near Toronto, Canada. Credit University of Wester Ontario.

See more camera views here.

Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks – November 17-19, 2011

Leonid meteors seen from 39,000 feet aboard an aircraft during the 1999 Leonids Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign (Leonid-MAC). Comet Tempel-Tuttle provides the cometary debris for the Leonid meteor storm, which takes place in mid-November. Credit: NASA/ISAS/Shinsuke Abe and Hajime Yano

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Are you ready for a good, predictable meteor shower? Then break out your favorite skywatching gear because the 2011 Leonid meteor shower is already sparkling the skies…

In the pre-dawn hours on the mornings of November 17-19th, the offspring of Comet Temple/Tuttle will be flashing through our atmosphere at speeds of up to 72 kilometers per second – and enticing you to test your meteor watching skills against partially moonlit skies. Although the waning Moon will greatly interfere with fainter meteor trails, don’t let that stop you from enjoying early evening observations, or enjoying your morning coffee with a handful of “shooting stars” which will be emanating outward from the constellation of Leo.

Where in the skies do you look? For all observers the constellation of Leo is along the ecliptic plane and will be near its peak height during best viewing times. When? Because of the Moon, earlier evening observations are favored (before local midnight), but just a couple of hours before local dawn is the best time to watch. Why? Read on!

Although it has been a couple of years since Temple/Tuttle was at perihelion, don’t forget that meteor showers are wonderfully unpredictable and the Leonids are sure to please with fall rate of around 20 (average) per hour. Who knows what surprises it may bring! Each time the comet swings around our Sun it loses some of its material in the debris trail. Of course, we all know that is the source of a meteor shower, but what we don’t know is just how much debris was shed and where it may lay.

“The Moon is going to be a major interference, but we could see a rate of about 20 per hour,” said Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Some models, including ours, indicate that particles may encounter Earth on November 16 at around 5:30 p.m. EST [2230 GMT], where we could see anywhere from 100 to 200 meteors per hour. So, we could get a Leonid outburst, but unfortunately it is not favorably placed for viewing from the United States.”

As our Earth passes through the dusty matter, it may encounter a place where the comet let loose with a large amount of its payload – or it may pass through an area where the “comet stuff” is thin. We might even pass through an area which produces an exciting “meteor storm” like the Leonids produced in 1883! For those in the know, the Leonid meteor shower also made a rather incredible appearance in 1866 and 1867 – dumping up to 1000 (not a typo, folks) shooting stars recorded even with a Moon present! It erupted again in 1966 and in 1998 and produced 3000 (yep. 3000!) video recorded meteors during the years of 2001 and 2002. But remember, human eyes may only be able to detect just a few. So what’s a realistic guess?

According to Cooke; “We could see rates of about five meteors per hour,” he explained. “If people want to see the Leonids, it might be good to watch the nights of November 16th and 17th. Instead of just going out one night, you might want to go out twice.”

Chart Courtesy of "Your Sky"

And to make this year’s show twice as nice, you’ll have a hard time not being distracted with the Moon and Mars being right on the radiant! You won’t be able to miss the Red Planet as the Moon slides along south… First to Mars’ west and then to the east on the nights of November 18th and 19th.

What a terrific show!

Asteroid Lutetia… A Piece Of Earth?

This image of the unusual asteroid Lutetia was taken by ESA’s Rosetta probe during its closest approach in July 2010. Lutetia, which is about 100 kilometres across, seems to be a leftover fragment of the same original material that formed the Earth, Venus and Mercury. It is now part of the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, but its composition suggests that it was originally much closer to the Sun. Credit: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

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According to data received from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, ESO’s New Technology Telescope, and NASA telescopes, strange asteroid Lutetia could be a real piece of the rock… the original material that formed the Earth, Venus and Mercury! By examining precious meteors which may have formed at the time of the inner Solar System, scientists have found matching properties which indicate a relationship. Independent Lutetia must have just moved its way out to join in the main asteroid belt…

A team of astronomers from French and North American universities have been hard at work studying asteroid Lutetia spectroscopically. Data sets from the OSIRIS camera on ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii and Spitzer Space Telescope have been combined to give us a multi-wavelength look at this very different space rock. What they found was a very specific type of meteorite called an enstatite chondrite displayed similar content which matched Lutetia… and what is theorized as the material which dates back to the early Solar System. Chances are very good that enstatite chondrites are the same “stuff” which formed the rocky planets – Earth, Mars and Venus.

“But how did Lutetia escape from the inner Solar System and reach the main asteroid belt?” asks Pierre Vernazza (ESO), the lead author of the paper.

It’s a very good question considering that an estimated less than 2% of the material which formed in the same region of Earth migrated to the main asteroid belt. Within a few million years of formation, this type of “debris” had either been incorporated into the gelling planets or else larger pieces had escaped to a safer, more distant orbit from the Sun. At about 100 kilometers across, Lutetia may have been gravitationally influenced by a close pass to the rocky planets and then further affected by a young Jupiter.

“We think that such an ejection must have happened to Lutetia. It ended up as an interloper in the main asteroid belt and it has been preserved there for four billion years,” continues Pierre Vernazza.

Asteroid Lutetia is a “real looker” and has long been a source of speculation due to its unusual color and surface properties. Only 1% of the asteroids located in the main belt share its rare characteristics.

“Lutetia seems to be the largest, and one of the very few, remnants of such material in the main asteroid belt. For this reason, asteroids like Lutetia represent ideal targets for future sample return missions. We could then study in detail the origin of the rocky planets, including our Earth,” concludes Pierre Vernazza.

Original Story Source: ESO News Release.

The Draconid Meteor Shower – A Storm is Coming!

Geminid Meteor - George Varros (courtesy NASA)

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The Draconids are coming! Will this meteor shower produce a storm of observable meteors, or just a minor squall? The Draconid Meteor Show should begin on October 8, 2011 starting at dusk (roughly 19:00 BST) and continue through the evening. Peak activity of this normally minor and quiet shower is estimated to be at 21:00 BST (20:00 UT). There seems to be a wide range of predictions for this year’s shower, but some astronomers believe there could be up to 1,000 meteors per hour, making this a meteor storm!

The Draconids or Giacobinids as they are also known, radiate from a point in the constellation of Draco the Dragon in the Northern hemisphere. In the past, notably in 1933 and 1946, the Draconids turned into a meteor storm with meteor rates of more than one every second!

So, will this year bring us a storm? Astronomers believe so as the predicted path of the Earth through the debris streams of comet 21P/Giacobini-Ziner is favorable for a major storm, similar to what has been seen in previous years. Some reports say NASA is even considering the potential risk of damage to the International Space Station and other satellites due to meteroid impacts.

Some astronomers, on the other hand, are saying this shower could be a dud, with only 5 or so meteors per hour.

Credit: Alex Tudorica

Observers in the UK and Northern Europe are ideally placed to see the peak of the Draconids. Unfortunately the peak occurs in the day time for North America. There will also be a bright Moon which may drown out many but the brightest meteors, but if predictions are correct, you will still see many. You may see Draconid meteors on the 7th an the 9th also, so it is worth going out and checking the skies.

The Constellation Draco in the northern sky in the northern hemisphere.

Draco is a circumpolar constellation visible all night from northern latitudes.

There is no skill or even astronomical knowledge needed to enjoy meteor showers. All you need is to be comfortable, away from bright lights and your eyes. Sit back on a recliner or garden chair and fill your gaze with sky as meteors can appear anywhere as they radiate from the constellation of Draco. For more info on how to enjoy meteor showers visit meteorwatch.org

So what will you see? Draconid meteors are usually slow and bright streaks of light, but if you look away, you can still miss them so keep your gaze on the sky.

There are no guarantees of a meteor storm or even a good meteor shower as these phenomena can be very unpredictable, but the only way to find out is to go outside and look up.

If predictions are correct, you could be in for a spectacular treat and something truly memorable, so don’t miss it. Even if it is cloudy, you can listen to the meteor shower or you can watch as they enter Earths atmosphere

For more information on the Draconids, see the International Meteor Organization’s post on this year’s shower.

Good Luck!

Fireball Meteor
Credit: Pierre Martin of Arnprior, Ontario, Canada.

April 9th Fireball

In my time watching the skies, I’ve seen quite a few meteors, fireballs, and bolides. The truly notable ones are few and far between, but last Saturday, I caught one that was among the most interesting I’ve seen. It was a slow moving, bright green one with a nice smoke trail that was easily as bright as Venus from where I saw it in the suburbs of St. Louis. I tweeted about it briefly but didn’t think much more about it until I got a response from another person that saw it along with a link to a collection of observations. As nice as the observation was for me, it was nothing compared to the view some others got.

Heading over to the American Meteor Society page for a meteor around this time, it looks like a meteor matching the one I saw generated a pretty good number of reports from across the country. Several have reactions similar to my initial one: This must be a firework. Many reports confirm the smoke trail and fragmentation as well. But the reports that are really fantastic are the ones from Canada.

At the Lunar Meteorite Hunters blog, several reports have been collected. Several of these reports from various locations in Ontario report the meteor being as bright as a full moon and lighting up the entire sky! One even notes that they could hear a fizzling noise, a rare phenomenon thought to occur when the passage through the atmosphere creates an ionized path that interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field creating radio waves that could induce physical vibrations in the air around the observer. Another comment reports a sonic boom around the same time (although sonic booms would occur well after the meteor was visible due to the sluggish nature of sound waves, much like the delay between lightning and thunder).

It doesn’t look like NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network caught this fireball, but an amateur observatory equipped with an all sky camera for detecting fireballs did catch the event.

The green color for such meteors is uncommon but not unprecedented. The presence of magnesium ions is responsible for this color. Interestingly, another famous meteor, the Peekskill meteor, also had a green color and rivaled the full moon in brightness. This meteor became famous because it was independently captured in at least sixteen videos (here’s one showing the green tint) as well as for surviving intact to the ground and damaging a car.

Meteors of this intensity are quite rare but bright fireballs like this seem to peak around the vernal equinox. In the weeks surrounding that day, the rate of such events increases around 10-30%.

Incoming! New Camera Network Tracks Fireballs

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/01mar_meteornetwork/

How often have you seen a meteor streak across the sky and wondered where it came from and what it was? A new network of smart cameras that NASA is setting up will hopefully help answer those questions for as many fireballs as possible, at least in the US.

“If someone calls me and asks ‘What was that?’ I’ll be able to tell them,” said William Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. With the new camera network, Cooke and his team hope to have a record of every big meteoroid that enters the atmosphere over the certain parts of the U.S. “Nothing will burn up in those skies without me knowing about it!” he added.

And the exciting part is that Cooke is looking to partner with schools, science centers, and planetaria willing to host his cameras.

It is estimated that every day about 100 tons of meteoroids — fragments of dust and gravel and sometimes even big rocks – enter the Earth’s atmosphere. But surprisingly, not much is known about the origin of all this stuff.

Groups of these smart cameras in the new meteor network will be able to automatically triangulate the fireballs’ paths, and special software will be able to compute their orbits.

In other U.S. meteor networks, someone has to manually look at all the cameras’ data and calculate the orbits – a painstaking process.

“With our network, our computers do it for us – and fast,” said Cooke.

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The network’s first three cameras, each about the size of a gumball machine, are already up and running. Cooke’s team will soon have 15 cameras deployed east of the Mississippi River, with plans to expand nationwide.

How can you get involved? Here is the criteria for the locations Cooke is currently looking for:

1. Location east of the Mississippi River
2. Clear horizon (few trees)
3. Few bright lights (none close to camera)
4. Fast internet connection

The smart meteor network uses ASGARD (All Sky and Guided Automatic Realtime Detection) software, developed at the University of Western Ontario, which hosts the Southern Ontario Meteor Network, which took the video at the top of this article. The software processes the visual information and performs the triangulation needed to determine the orbits and origins of the fireballs.

The cameras can also provide information on where any potential meteorites may have landed, which is great for meteorite hunters and scientists. Getting a piece of a space rock is like a free sample return mission.

NASA's Smart Meteor Network is catching more than fireballs. Click on the image to see a movie where a bird stops to rest on one of the cameras in Georgia.

All cameras in the network send their fireball information to Cooke and to a public website. Teachers can contact Cooke at [email protected] to request teacher workshop slides containing suggestions for classroom use of the data. Students can learn to plot fireball orbits and speeds, where the objects hit the ground, how high in the atmosphere the fireballs burn up, etc.

But anyone can try meteor watching on their own, without being part of the network.

“Go out on a clear night, lie flat on your back, and look straight up,” Cooke said. “It will take 30 to 40 minutes for your eyes to become light adapted, so be patient. By looking straight up, you may catch meteor streaks with your peripheral vision too. You don’t need any special equipment — just your eyes.”

Then – if you are lucky to see some bright fireballs — you can check the fireball website to find out more information about what you saw.

Source: Science@NASA