Fireball Over British Columbia and the American Northwest

Reports have been coming in of a slow bright fireball seen over the Canadian province of British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon. Most reports put the time of the fireball at ~8 pm local time on the evening of September 12. The fireball traveled from east to west.

Thanks to everyone who has submitted reports to this blog. Please also submit reports to the American Meteor Society’s Fireball page.They are the official archive of fireball sightings and all reports will be made available to the scientific community.

The east to west motion can rule out the re-entry of man-made space junk since 99.9+% of man-made stuff orbits the Earth from west to east. The slow motion (described as much slower than a typical meteor) and the long duration of the fireball suggest that this was due to a very small asteroid (probably no bigger than a basketball) rather than a small piece of cometary dust like most meteors.

It is possible the fireball dropped some meteorites though the lack of any reports of sonic booms suggests that material didn’t survive to reach the lower atmosphere. As close as the fireball may have seen it was much higher than an airplane. If it was similar to most slow bright fireballs, it first became visible at an altitude of 70-100 km and faded out between 20-40 km up.

The some local news stories on the fireball can be found at The Province, CBCNews, Time Colonist, and the Vancouver Sun.

The map below shows the location of sightings reported to this blog. [Map was last updated on Sept 15 at 9:30 am PST]

Sept12_BC_fireball4

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

28 Responses to Fireball Over British Columbia and the American Northwest

  1. Steve says:

    Hi there – my wife and I were travelling west on I-90 about 3 miles west of Issaquah when we saw the same thing. We saw streak of green/blue ball coming down…looked like it was very close to ground…then light went out but appeared that solid object still continued on….yes, was at 8PM.

  2. Mark S. says:

    Was at Cama beach on the west side of Camano Island, Wa. Mark C. was looking west and shouted “shooting star”; 7 other adults all looked up and observed the brightest object any of us have ever seen in the sky. Bright yellow, moving west, seemingly slowly(5 seconds) until it went down over Whidbey Island while seeming to break up. Incredible sight, it was 8 pm on the 12th and not even dark, yet this thing was so bright and consistent and lasted so long. I’m going with the asteroid theory as this was like nothing any of us had ever seen.

  3. Laura D says:

    My husband & I also saw the fireball as we were driving across the 520 bridge from Redmond (via Medina) to Seattle, WA at 8 pm. My husband said “shooting star!” & pointed to a bright greenish blue streak of light to the (low) northwest that burst into a red ball & then disappeared.

  4. adameros says:

    We had set up a screen for an outdoor movie, and we just settling in to watch the movie, and 7:45-8:00, and I saw the screak pass over my place in Bothell, WA.

    I’ve never seen a meteor that bright before.

  5. Erik says:

    I was camped out under the stars at 7000 ft on South Sister near Bend, Oregon, and saw it too. Very impressive. There appeared to be burning pieces breaking off of it.

  6. John Goerger says:

    The Everett Astronomy Society had their telescopes set-up for public viewing at the Port Gardner Park that Saturday, Sept 12 2009 which overlooks the US NAVY base at Everett WA.
    I am a member of the EAS and had just turned away from my 11″ ULTIMA CELESTRON telescope while folks were looking at Jupiter though it. I yelled out; “look west there is a meteor coming down”. Several people saw the same thing and were saying to others to look at the fireball.
    It had color and did break apart but did last longer than most meteors I have seen and its rate was someone slower then others.
    Also, the ISS was also seen by those attending EVA’s Telescope Night as well.

  7. Lorrie and Alex says:

    Well, I guess we were not crazy, my daughter and I were traveling from the Spokane Valley, going West. First we thought it was an aircraft that had blown up it was bright yellow-orange, When I got home I took a picture of the smoke pattern it left behind.

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Lorrie and Alex,

      Thanks for your report. Nope you’re not crazy as this fireball was seen over most of the US NW.

      I’m very interested in your picture of the smoke trail. Would it be possible for me to post it on my blog?

      Thanks again,
      – Carl
      – transientsky.wordpress.com

  8. Trevor says:

    I was camping with my girlfriend on the beach in Tofino watching the sunset to the west and happened to look back east at the perfect time. We saw the firball shoot accross the sky from East to West eventually breaking up about 3/4’s of the way accross the sky. It was cool becuase the sky was still blue and stars weren’t even visible yet.

  9. Lil says:

    King 5 News on Monday said that it was probably something going on at the International Space Station. That seems utterly ridiculous. I saw it and it was an unmanned vehicle docking that the Space Station. I guess that shows how poor the local news can be at times.

  10. Alex Perlman says:

    I was talking with my wife via cell phone, standing and facing West/NW at Camp Brotherhood, near Lake McMurray, Skagit County Washington when the object went over. It was bright yellow – almost white against the dusk sky. After about 4-5 seconds it “blipped” and a second later was gone. I have seen lots of annual metoer showers but this single event eclipses the rest. This object was very low in the sky. Amazing. [Sighting was at 48 degrees 18′ 40.75″ N and 122 degrees 12′ 18.3″ W. – coordinate source Google Earth.]

  11. Terry says:

    I was on Marrowstone Island, Washington (slightly southeast of Port Townsend) with my friend Karen. I have seen many meteor showers in the desert southwest, but this fireball was very much larger, brighter, slower, and seemingly closer. It seemed more white than colored to us. The reported time of about 8:00 pm seems about right. We saw it at about the zenith and watched until it disappeared behind trees in the west. Fabulous.

  12. Northwatch says:

    Saturday September 12, 2009
    Between 8:00/ 8:30 pm.
    Port Alberni, BC.

    We were attending the Port Alberni fall fair, I heard a pecular sound and looked over head, the see a large bright object, like a comet with a tail, zipping across the sky from the east heading west, then bursting into 2 or 3 pieces and fizzled out.
    It didn’t seem that high up either, not as high as a jet plane, but higher than a small craft. And it wasn’t instant like a shooting star, it was slow enough that a few of us in the immediate area, witnessed it.
    Space debris, comet, who knows, but it was magnificant to see.

  13. My Girlfriend, her daughter, and I where riding our Goldwings North on I-5 after having spent the day in Seattle and saw the show, it was amazing. We’ve never seen a shooting star give off so much light.

  14. steve c says:

    FAKE you people are horrible actots

    • Fake? No, but you could work on your spelling a bit.

    • John Goerger says:

      Agree. To bad they don’t include spell check for steve c.
      Note: Steve, with the EAS there were close to 100 folks that evening looking though our scopes and observing the fireball that was desending over in the westen evening sky.

  15. Steve Knight says:

    My 5 year old son and I were walking down the street in our neighborhood on Union Hill in Redmond WA at about 8pm on Saturday Sept 12 when my son yelled “shooting star Daddy!”. I looked-up and saw a very bright yellow fireball, with a tail, streaking across the sky east to west at close range. My first thought was comet, then I thought maybe a plane going down as it seemed to be also heading somewhat downward. I would say maybe 5-7 seconds later it litterally exploded into pieces and left steaks of smoke in the sky before disappearing completely. It was quite a sight. My son and I went home and I searched the internet for news stories Saturday evening but didn’t find anything until now. It was really something and my feeling is that if it was an astroid it was awfully close.

  16. Steve Elliott says:

    Unusual sighting at 19:22 on 9/19/09 from Matrha’s Vineyard (off Cape Cod, MA). Bright light (3-4x brighter than Jupiter) that seemed to be moving directly towards us (not across the sky). It grew brighter for 3-5 seconds and two eruption of glowing gases/debris were emitted from it. The first eruption fell out of the object, forming at triangle, while the second eruption formed a round cloud around the object. Both clouds remained visible for 2-3 minutes and drifted eastward into similiar bands within the milky way.
    Anyone else catch it?

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the report. What you saw was seen all over eastern New England.

      It was a cloud experiment launched from NASA’s launch facility at Wallops Island in Virginia.

      More on the launch can be found at CNN and at NASA.

      – Carl

  17. Hayden says:

    I took a photo of a statue near budapest hungary on this date and was surprised to see a bright light in the background, maybe this was the same fireball????? Maybe someone can tell me if these were both the same fireball. Take a look at it here http://picasaweb.google.com/haydoyeahtwo/RiaRiaHunGarRia#5381794049909698066

  18. Tara says:

    We saw it too! I have a bed and breakfast on ashley lake just west of Kalispell MT. My four guests and I were at the campfire and noticed it overheadl…the sky was incredible that night. At first we thought it was aircraft but it was just a round fireball…no noise/no flashing lights. We were all sure we were witnessing something amazing but had no idea what it could be.

  19. Christina says:

    Anyone see a fireball over Portland, Oregon Oct, 9th 2009 at almost midnight. It looked as if heading north to west. It was in the sky for over minute. I have never seen anything like it. It lasted so long. Longer than I have heard anyone say. A friend dropped me off at my house and I looked up and saw a fireball (orange/yellow) It looked as if it was falling from the sky slowly. I called my friend back, she was a block away and she saw it too. She was able to drive back and see in head west behind trees. I can’t believe how long it was in the air. It sounds crazy but that it what I saw. It was very clear that it was a fireball and not a plane or anything like that. I really don’t know what to think… very confused…

  20. Mark says:

    I was at the Tin Can Tourist gathering in Lynden WA. That alone seems perfect for a night full of strangeness. I agree with most of the blog comments here. Especially Erik who saw what appeared to be pieces breaking off along its journey across the sky. I also read the comment by Trevor who was up in Tofino on Van Island. It blows me away that something that seemed like a jet plane falling out of the sky can be seen the same from OR to Van Island. I was seriously waiting for an explosion. I have seen so many cool things happen in our sky…from Hayley’s Comet to meteor showers. But nothing like what streaked across the NW skies that night. Incredible. I am glad to have seen it. Funny how I almost ducked!

  21. Steve Greist says:

    I recently came across your blog and appreciated comments describing this amazing astonmoical phenomenon. We also witnessed this spectacle on Sept 12th, the evening of our daughter Anna’s wedding. We and 150 guests were gathered outside on SeaBold Farm on Bainbridge Island, WA and were just raising our glasses to toast the newly married couple, Anna and AJ, when everyone breathed a collective gasp of wonder. My wife and I turned around to catch the burst and streak of light that traveled for several long seconds into the horizon over the Olympic Mountains. Our friends still wonder how we timed that so perfectly!!

    We were posing a toast to the newly married couple when the

  22. katie campbell says:

    My friends and I saw the orange and red fire ball one week ago, and then three seconds ago flying really slowly through the sky. It’s weird because last week, it seemed to go down to earth, but just now, it looked like it was coming at us, and THEN IT WENT UP. It went higher and higher and then disapeared like last time.

    Crazy.

    We’re in Port Townsend

  23. James Church says:

    im trying to find the massive fireball that went from south to north between aug 2008 and dec 2009. i was driving east on HWY 12 near salkum. it was bright blue with a long tail. anybody have any ideas of what meteor it was please e-mail me. lacchu7934@hotmail.com leave subject as date of fireball and sight crash. thanks

%d bloggers like this: