Fireballs over the Scotland/Ireland/England on Sept 20/22

Another round of fireball reports was submitted to this blog last night. Three fireballs were observed over England, Scotland and Ireland during the evenings of Sept 20 & 22.

The first fireball was seen at 23:16 BST on Sept 20 from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, UK. Marlow is located ~50km or 30 miles west of London. A detailed description can be found at the Wycombe Astronomical Society. It was described as a white slow-moving meteor with a brightness of -3 magnitudes (between the brightness of Jupiter and Venus). This looks like a natural meteor caused by a meteoroid. It is possible that it a piece of a re-entering satellite. Thanks to Ed Davies for calling attention to this sighting.

The second fireball was reported by Lucy from East Mersea in southeast England. She reported a fireball with 4 components around 8:30 PM on Sept 22. The description seems to suggest a fireball which has broken up. It could be either a natural meteor or a re-entering piece of man-made space junk.

The third fireball also occurred during the evening of Sept 22 at 9:30-9:40 PM. Largo (Hamilton, just outside of Glasgow in southwest Scotland) and Debbie (Islandmagee, County Antrim, Northern Ireland) both described a fireball moving from East to West. It was multi-colored with a tail. The East to West motion probably rules out a re-entering satellite so this one looks to be a natural meteor caused by a meteoroid or small asteroid.

A third report of this fireball has been submitted by Chris Day of Accrington, England. He described a white/yellow fireball which latest for at least 6 seconds. It moved from the West to the East before setting behind trees and buildings.

With 3 fireball sightings from the British Isles and the Sept 19th fireball over southern California, I’m sure everyone is wondering what’s going on?

Though very bright fireballs, such as the southern CA one, are rare, they occur nightly somewhere in the world. We don’t read much about them because they are usually missed. Most of the world is covered by oceans, or cloudy, or uninhabited, so we only hear of bright fireballs occurring over major population centers. Secondly, meteors with brightnesses comparable to the brightest planets, such as the Marlow meteor, probably occur nightly for any observer willing to spend all night staring at the sky. Since we are only outside and looking up for a fraction of the night we miss most of these as well.

There are many rare sights in the sky. But the more time you spend looking up, the more likely you are to see some of them.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted reports of fireballs. Keep sending them in.

Sept 22/23 Meteors

Some nights you get a lot, some nights not so many. After detecting 25 meteors the previous night, last night only turned up 11 meteors. I wouldn’t read too much into the change in detections from night to night. Based on what has been detected this month, I’d saw my system is finding 20 ± 10 meteors per night. So numbers between 10 and 30 meteors per night are the norm.

Date           TotalTime   TOT   SPO   ANT   DAU
2008-09-23 UT   10h 13m     11    9     1     1

TOT – total # of meteors detected
SPO – Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT – Antihelions (meteors coming from the opposition region, opposite the direction of the Sun)
DAU – δ-Aurigids (Delta Aurigids)

Sept 21/22 Meteors

The weather continues to be great in Tucson. As the Moon passes its 3rd Quarter phase, sky conditions are improving for meteor observing. Last night was very productive with 25 meteors being detected. There were also a few nice ones in the mix and I will try to get videos of those posted soon.

Date                     TotalTime      TOT    SPO     ANT     DAU

2008-09-22 UT    10h 14m        25      24        0          1

TOT – total # of meteors detected
SPO – Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT – Antihelions (meteors coming from the opposition region, opposite the direction of the Sun)
DAU – δ-Aurigids (Delta Aurigids)

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.

September 19/20/21st Meteors

The last two nights produced another 28 meteors. The Moon is still bright and high in the sky right before dawn. Since the number of observable meteors peaks right before dawn, the Moon is undoubtedly keeping rates down a bit. This should become less of an issue over the next few days as the Moon approaches its New phase.

Date                     TotalTime      TOT    SPO     ANT     DAU

2008-09-20 UT    10h 10m       12      12        0         0
2008-09-21 UT      6h 39m       16      13        1         2

TOT – total # of meteors detected
SPO – Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT – Antihelions (meteors coming from the opposition region, opposite the direction of the Sun)
DAU – δ-Aurigids (Delta Aurigids)

Sept 18/19th Meteors

Observing conditions were fairly good last night, though some clouds moved through during the hours right before dawn.

Last night saw my first detection of a possible Delta Aurigid. I say possible because there is evidence that this shower should not even be active till next month. So what was this particular meteor? Data from decades of naked eye observers suggest that both the September Perseids and the Delta Aurigids are active, though at very low levels. Since both showers radiate from the same part of the sky, my camera cannot differentiate between them. To do that requires calculating the orbit of the meteor which needs observations from at least 2 cameras separated by 50-100 miles.

The other possibility is that the meteor is not related to either shower and is just a background Sporadic. Video data over the past few years suggest that neither shower should have been active last night. One of the reasons why a large number of amateurs and I are operating cameras every night is find answers to questions like these.

Date                     TotalTime      TOT    SPO     ANT     DAU

2008-09-19 UT     9h 34m        16      12        3         1

TOT – total # of meteors detected
SPO – Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT – Antihelions (meteors coming from the opposition region, opposite the direction of the Sun)
DAU – δ-Aurigids (Delta Aurigids)

Sept 17/18th Meteors

Clear skies returned though the Moon is still hampering observing during the morning hours. Last night we bid farewell to the 2008 September Perseids and welcomed the Delta Aurigids. An overview of the Delta Aurigids is given in the September “In the Sky This Month“.

Date                     TotalTime      TOT    SPO     ANT     DAU

2008-09-18 UT    10h 07m       12       9         3         0

TOT – total # of meteors detected
SPO – Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT – Antihelions (meteors coming from the opposition region, opposite the direction of the Sun)
DAU – δ-Aurigids (Delta Aurigids)

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