Fireball Over Southern California – Sept 19

I have received a number of comments on this blog regarding an impressive fireball observed over southern California. The original comments can be found by going to the Sept 18/19 Meteors posting. Additional reports are published on the ScienceDude’s blog. Other than this blog and the ScienceDude’s, I have not been able to find any other reports.

The fireball was observed on Friday night, Sept 19, at approximately 11:10 PDT (6:10 UT). It was described as being yellow-orange and left a long trail in its path. Multiple observers noted that it broke into at least three pieces. One observer in Los Angeles reported hearing a sound similar to an explosion. Interestingly another meteor was observed within a minute or two of the fireball. This second meteor was not as bright and moved perpendicular to the path of the first.

A map showing the location of sightings is posted below.

Map of southern California with Sept 19 fireball sightings denoted by red stars. Updated on 9/26.

Map of southern California with Sept 19 fireball sightings denoted by red stars. Updated on 9/26.

So what was it? It was either one of two things, a small rock from the Asteroid Belt or a piece of an old satellite or rocket. Based on the reports, it is hard to rule out either of these possibilities.

So here’s what we know.

* The fireball was located just north of Los Angeles and traveled from West to East. Meteors can travel in any direction. At the latitude of LA, many satellites are moving from West to East so the direction of motion makes me wonder if this isn’t a re-entering piece of a satellite. If it was a meteor, it was not associated with any known meteor shower.

* It was a bright yellow-orange and broke up into multiple pieces. Most meteors are blue or green but can be any color. The same is true of re-entering spacecraft.

* The fireball was long lasting and disappeared behind the horizon for some observers. This is consistent with both rocks and satellites.

So based on the evidence, it is hard to say if it was a rock or a satellite.

If you are wondering why my camera didn’t see it. Meteors occur at a height of ~50-80 miles above the ground. As a result, any one particular meteor can only be seen over a distance of a couple of hundred miles. Tucson is just too far away from LA to have seen it.

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed comments. If there are any other reports, please post them in the comment section. And for those who did witness this event, count yourself lucky. A bright disintegrating fireball is one of the most awesome sights in the night sky.

I will continue to look for other reports and hopefully a video as well.

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About Carl Hergenrother
I am a professional astronomer specializing in the study of comets, asteroids and meteors. This blog will focus on my professional and amateur work in this field

33 Responses to Fireball Over Southern California – Sept 19

  1. Tamara B says:

    It was Beautuful!! I was camping and went for a walk, I always look up, suddenly I saw a amber looking object,…it became larger then it had a tail and it broke up into 2 pieces, then 3. I believe I looked up just at the right time. I was at silverwood lake in California.

  2. Carl Hergenrother says:

    Tamara,

    Thanks for the report. I added Silverwood Lake to the map of sightings. Of all of the sightings I’ve seen, you may have been closest to the fireball. Was it directly overhead or to the North when you saw it?

    – Carl

  3. Troy H. says:

    I agree with Tamara B, that it was beautiful. In fact, for me, it was the most wonderful thing I have had the opportunity to see in the night sky. I was in Murrieta, CA on the front porch of my good friend when he pointed to the sky. It was yellow-ish and had a nice trail. The velocity was incredible relative to its size and altitude. The fireball then broke twice. The calves were bright and also had trails, but were short lived. The main body of the fireball continued for quite some distance before fading. We were lucky to see the calving and to have had no obstructions to prevent us from seeing the final fade. Truly awesome.

  4. Lindsey B. says:

    I was sitting with a few friends in my front yard in Del Mar Ca. when one girlfriend thought she saw an airplane crashing. Obvously it was traveling too fast to be a plane. It was very low in the sky and was bright yellow/orange travelling from west to east. What an amazing sight!

  5. c.gordon says:

    Hi, I have been looking for other people who also saw what I did Friday night. I am located in Leucadia, California right next to the ocean.

    What I saw was a large golden-yellow star-shape of light which appeared to the North of me. It traveled West to East with the smaller pieces falling off and trailing to the West.

    The other thing I saw was also to the North, it was smaller and higher up in the sky. It was white in color and looked like a large shooting star falling perpendicular to the earlier sighting.

  6. Iris R says:

    My husband and I saw the bright golden fireball shoot through the sky. We saw a couple of pieces break off of it and then it dissapeared behind some palm trees. It was very impressive and we were kept entertained trying to figure out what it was. We were in Indian Wells, CA so it looked beautiful against the desert sky.

  7. Ed Davies says:

    Similar object seen over southern England about 16 hours later:

    http://wycombeastro.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=643

    I wonder if there’s any connection.

  8. Debbie says:

    hi
    i live in Northern Ireland, Co Antrim, while i was out walking my dog last night, 22nd Sept 08, at around 21.40hrs there was a fireball, meteorite, comet, it had a tail, not quite sure what it was, except beautiful. It was travelling east to west.

    do you have any ideas what it was?

    Debbie

  9. keith says:

    Hello. I saw this when I was located at the north end of Perris, CA. I saw yellow/orange color and it clearly broke into 3 parts that seem to all continue traveling the same direction.

    It was truly amazing and I was wondering what it was. I’ve never see any like that before and consider myself lucky for having been outside and looking in the right direction at the right time. There was even time for me to call to another friend and say ‘ look at that’, and there was still a few more seconds of falling.

    keith

  10. Sheri says:

    My Girlfriend and i were sitting in the back yard in Palm Desert. I looked up and saw the most incredible sight. There were 3 of them bright orange and traveling in the same direction. My friend had time to look up also. The tails on them were amazing. They appeared to be so low. Beautiful. When the rest of our friends got home, we tried to explain what we had seen. I dont think they believed us. Really glad i found this site, and now have proof that indeed we did see them, and it wasnt that we had to much wine….. lol Thanks Sheri

  11. g e g says:

    I saw it Idyllwild, California (Small town in Southern California). It came pretty close to the horizon and broke into three pieces. It seemed to fly through the air for about 7 seconds as it went across the sky.

    …Very exciting to hear similar reports.

  12. Martha says:

    My boyfriend and I saw it since it became visible, we were looking at the sky when it appeared and broke into pieces as it left its tail…..it was beautiful….we were next to Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia California

  13. Jake says:

    You can put Marina Del Rey, CA on the map. A bunch of us all saw it from a rooftop. It was awesome…I saw it and said “Holy $#@&…look at that”, assuming it was just a shooting star and would be gone by the time that everyone turned to see it, but it lingered, then got brighter, then broke up. It was visible and brilliant for at least 4-5 seconds if I recall.

  14. jEFf says:

    I saw it in Twentynine Palms, CA and as soon as we returned back home to Orange County, I wrote up the account and e-mailed it to an astronomical website to see if they could identify what it was. Here is my original account that was sent on Sept. 22nd…

    ——-
    I was out at my cabin in the desert this last weekend [Sept. 19th] and
    witnessed the most intense ‘meteor’ that I have ever seen. It was so intense that my friends who witnessed it with me suspected that it was some sort of man-made object re entering the atmosphere and burning up. It reminded me of the footage of the space shuttle Columbia when it burned up during re entry, so much so, that I turned on the radio half expecting to hear a news update about losing the shuttle or even the ISS…

    Our position was Twentynine Palms, CA USA Lat: 34.25115 Long: -116.11517
    Approximate time: 11pm
    Direction: West to East

    As I walked out of my cabin, I saw a fireball already in motion coming out of the West, appearing about 30 degrees above the horizon [when I first saw it] and it traversed the sky to a little past overhead directly to the East before finally burning up completely. We had seen multiple falling stars all throughout the evening, but they all seemed to be radiating from the East at about 70 degrees above the horizon [sorry, I don't know the proper way to describe the actual astronomical position :D ] So it struck me as unusual that this one was from the opposite direction. It was approximately 11pm at the time I witnessed it and it moved quite a bit slower than any meteor that I have ever seen. It literally took approximately 6-9 seconds to burn up completely and traversed the sky at the approximate speed that a low flying airliner would travel to pass overhead.
    I actually yelled to my friends to come look at the meteor and had a short conversation to convince them to come outside while it was still in flight. They actually casually walked out expecting it to be gone, but still saw it in flight.

    It burned a very bright orange and seemed to explode 3 separate times generating more particles which continued burning abnormally long as well and the main piece continued intensifying in brightness until it burned out completely at about 75-80 degrees above the eastern horizon.

  15. Lynda says:

    I was with my sister and brother in law at the Palm Desert Marriott, and we saw it from the balcony of their time share. It was moving fast, from west to east, and was bright gold in color. It split into 3 pieces and then faded out. We were hoping to see more, but that was it.

  16. Paula says:

    I saw one on Friday after our local high school football game while I was listening to the Presidential debate. Just as McCain was saying (I believe) “if we lose in Iraq……. I have never associated any skywatching event I’ve observed with something that was happening simultaneously before this evening. It was sobering, powerful.

  17. Lilia Villa says:

    A group of us was camping out at Joshua Tree National park, in the south end by Cottonwood campground. It was definitely one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. We clearly saw it up in the sky and it broke up into 3 pieces – it was so clear out there – AMAZING. For a moment I thought it would hit earth (recalling end-of-world cheesy flicks!). Funny thing is next to our campsite we had an Astronomy class. The following night we went over to their camp and star gazed on their telescope – this certainly reignited an old interest.

  18. Nadine says:

    I didn’t see this sight but last night I saw the MOST amazing, huge “shooting star” I’ve ever seen from the Indian Palms CC in Indio, CA. It had a thick sparkling tail and was the size of a small pea. It lasted for a good 2-3 seconds going from west to east. No one I’ve spoken to so far saw it too. Maybe someone “out there” did?

  19. S. Haertling says:

    I was celebrating my B-day in monrovia when I spotted it. It lasted long enough for me to point it out to my friends who were sitting at the table with me. I’d have to say it was the best birthday present ever!

  20. Pete Noblet and Hugh Townsend says:

    We were on holiday in the Lake District. We were in the garden having a BBQ and drinking the odd glass of wine. At about 21.30 on September 22nd I saw what initially thought was a shooting star and called out to my friend. We saw a fire ball move from west to east. It seemed very low and slow; lasting around eight seconds. There was a huge dark mass in front which glowed orange and yellow towards the rear. There were blue and green flames behind and a smoking vapour trail. We were both opened mouthed expecting a huge bang from an impact somewhere ahead. There was none only the sound of jet planes. We examined the wine bottle hardly believing our eyes.

  21. Karen Oliver says:

    My husband and I were crossing a well-lit parking lot in the urban area (south LA) of Santa Fe Springs when we saw it. It really was bright and long lasting, and broke into pieces as described above. It changed colors from white to yellow and orange before it faded. Given the proximity to the LAX flightpath, we were very concerned and turned on the radio news, but there was no mention of it.

  22. lee says:

    Tonight is Oct 24th, and I saw the same thing in Thousand Oaks. It looks like a plane, but it was dull orange…then I saw the trail, and it was bright behind it. It was burning across the sky for some time, but then it faded and looked just like a plane or satellite. Then shortly after, it looked as if it rotated, and you could see the resistance as it moved through the atmosphere. The funny thing about it, is on the radio the morning before, a woman called a local radio station describing a similar situation…..strange.

  23. james in hollywood says:

    I was on my roof with my buddy in hollywood and saw the first out of the corner of my eye, just like what others have said it broke into 2 then three pieces. I smacked my buddy in shock and then a few seconds later we both saw the second fly across. Definitely from the west.

  24. maggie rochlin says:

    maggie and jena from berkeley: october 29 2008. we were driving north to cache creek casino near woodland california about 9:00pm ish, and saw this fireball streak in front of our windshield, leave a tiny glowing train, then disappear altogether. we were astounded by how bright it was, and how low it was. we took it as a lucky omen, and when we reached the casino we were upgraded to a luxury suite from a room, and i won almost $3000 (which i left with). so it was really lucky for us, and a beautiful sight. on the way home, we saw a double rainbow, but did not stop at any more casinos.

  25. Shawna says:

    December 27th 2008 I was driving on Highway 101 heading Southbound when all of a sudden out of nowhere this fire ball streaked across the sky, right at that moment of noticing this wonderful everybody on the free seemed to have braked at the same time. To me it seemed like all the traffic noticed what we noticed and slowed down to stare at it. Then as fast as it came it seemed to have shot over the hills heading west towards the coast. I was so shocked at what I had seen because had no idea as to what I was looking at I rushed home and asked my dad if he saw anything. When he replied with a “no” he suggested that i watch the news later on that night. i hav been searching the news and papers for a couple of weeks now with no luck knowing what I had seen. I goggled it and found this room. So does everybody agree that it is a meteor? How long will it travel around like that?

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Shawna,

      I haven’t heard of any other reports of a fireball from that night. I’ll post another comment if something turns up.

      From your description it sounds like a bright meteor, also known as a fireball. It was caused by a very small asteroid, or part of an old rocket or satellite, a few inches across. It most likely completely burned up in the atmosphere after only a few seconds.

      Thanks for sharing your report,
      – Carl

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Shawna,

      A few reports of the fireball you saw were submitted to the American Meteor Society. You can see them here:

      http://www.amsmeteors.org/fireball/fireball_log2008.html

      – Carl

  26. when i was playing with my freinds i was by a green can and i looked up and saw a big fire ball flying across me it was scary i called my freinds and when they came it was gone i just wanted to know why it flew across :/

  27. Dana Corliss says:

    At about 9:45 p.m. tonight (January 10, 2010) my husband and I were sitting outside our home in Arcadia, CA and saw a bright blue flash and a streak. We normally see falling stars on a weekly basis, but nothing like this. What do you think it was.

    • Angela Stogner says:

      Although we intended to go online to find out if anyone else had seen that fantastic meteor, we got sidetracked. I was sitting in our courtyard with my husband and our neighbors Jan. 10 at about a quarter to 10 pm when everyone’s face lit up as if it were daytime. My husband had been glancing up at the stars at the moment so he had the clearest view–a huge fireball that lit up the entire sky. I looked up just after he did and saw the end of the flash and then we both saw streaks of light that took a few seconds to go out. Our neighbor Karmen didn’t see the fireball but did wonder why she hadn’t heard any sound because she initially thought the light was from a police helicopter. We figured that not too many people saw it because it was a cold night. Good to hear we aren’t crazy.

  28. JACK L. says:

    Did anybody see the metor last evening about 7:35 pm south west of hemet.Metor was moving in the east to west direction.Bright white went right past the cresent of the moon not moving to fast,visiable for a few secs.I went bihind the house line.If anyone else saw it comment back.jkl

  29. Barry P. says:

    I live in southern New Hampshire and have been lucky enough to see quite a few falling meteors. But on the morning of Sept 17th at about 345am I observed the biggest one I’ve ever seen. It lasted about 4 seconds with a long trail and broke up twice as I was observing it. It had an orangeish trail and was quite remarkable.

  30. Jay says:

    There was one tonight over southern california i think, it looked just like how it’s being explained by others. It was about 10 15 pm, slow moving orange glow kind moving more paralel with the planet, we sew it in Long beach even with all the light from the city and harbor, after about a minute it went out, and then flashed and keep going at a different derection like it blew up, it might not have been but it was not a plane, or anything mechanical.

    ;15pm

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