Mar 13/14/15 Meteors

Talk about nights at different extremes. Two nights ago had to rank as one of the most boring nights of the past 2 years. Not only were a small number (6) of meteors seen by my deep camera, no meteors were seen by my wide-angle fireball camera. For a clear night you should see at least 3 or 4 bright ones.

Last night (Sunday, March 14) was better. What really set it apart was a bright fireball seen over Tucson at ~10:14 pm (5:14 UT). Both of my cameras picked it up. The first movie shows the very early stages of the fireball. Since the SALSA2 camera only has a FOV of about 50×70 degrees, this camera was lucky to see any of it. In the movie the fireball is moving nearly due north (north is to the bottom) and first becomes visible just to the north of Leo.

In the next view, we are looking at images from a camera with a much wider FOV. Here the fireball continues to brighten as it moves towards the North. It is still brightening as it moves out of the FOV (about 20-30 degrees elevation). The apparent skipping motion is due to my computer dropping frames. Guess I need a better system…

The near-all-sky cam on Mount Hopkins caught another view of the fireball. Hopkins is located to the south of my place so the fireball appeared further north.

MMT all-sky camera on Mount Hopkins. Credit: Tim Pickering/University of Arizona.

The fireball was also seen on all-sky cameras in Sierra Vista and on Mount Lemmon. Interestingly, a brilliant fireball was observed to the west of Sacramento, CA at almost exactly the same time. The jury is out as to whether the AZ and CA fireballs are one and the same since they could easily be unrelated. If anyone witnessed the fireball, especially observers to the north of Tucson, leave a comment and let us know. Let’s hope tonight brings another one.

Obs  Date(UT)      Time    TOT SPO ANT GNO
TUS  2010-03-15   10h 25m   13  10  3   0
TUS  2010-03-14   08h 47m   6   6   0   0

TUS - Camera in Tucson operated by Carl Hergenrother
SDG - Camera in San Diego operated by Bob Lunsford
TotTime - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions
GNO - Gamma Normids

Utah Fireball – November 18

A brilliant fireball was seen over Utah a few minutes past midnight last night. Video images give the time of the fireball as ~12:07 am MST (7:07 UT). At least 2 comments to this blog describe the event.

Miah wrote:

Did you guys see the one in Bountiful Utah a half an hour ago Nov. 18th 2009 12:12 A.M. It had to be at least 30 feet wide with a fire blazing tail that lasted for a couple of seconds stringing out at least a mile long and it lit up the dark night like it was a really bright sunny day. The kind of day you really need to wear sunglasses from horizon to horizon for at least 6 seconds it threw my heart up into my throat and I received an immediate and outrageous adrenalin rush. This experience was by far the coolest thing I have ever seen in the night sky. If anybody else saw this please post and I really hope someone or somebodys business buildings camera got this on tape and they post it soon. I really want to relive that moment again… All I can say is WOW…

and Melissa wrote:

i was at walmart shopping and when i came out to put my items away the whole sky lit up like it was morning for about 3 seconds and then i turned around and then things got dark again and i saw an orange tail in the sky looked like fire and then it was gone it was so weird and scary

KSL TV has a whole bunch of videos listed on their website. Especially check out Patrick Wiggins video where he gives a great and thorough explanation of what the fireball was. Some of the videos show the actual fireball in the sky while others show the ground being lit up as bright as day. Further news stories can be found at The Salt Lake Tribune and

Six or so hours later, as the sun was rising, a ghostly blue trail was observed over Utah. This trail appears similar to those seen after other bright fireballs. What is amazing is that trail had not dissipated after such a long time. Note, the crazy meandering pattern of the trail does not mean the fireball was moving erratically. The erratic pattern of the trail is due to varying wind speeds and directions in the upper atmosphere.

So far I have not seen any images or videos of the fireball. All the videos and images just show the ground or sky lighting up. As Miah wrote above, the fireball lit up the ground as bright as day.

Though it was probably below the horizon as seen from Tucson, the sky did brighten towards the north. My north facing meteor camera did detect a brightening of the northern sky. Though I recognized it as something unusual when I looked over the data this morning, I deleted the data since there was no obvious meteor in the field. Only later did I read about the Utah fireball. Luckily the MMT all-sky cam picked up the flash from Mount Hopkins, just south of Tucson. The flash was observed to the north at the exact time of the fireball so there is no doubt they are related. If the flash was seen as far south as Tucson, it is likely that it was also seen from a wide area including the states of UT, AZ, NM, CO, WY, ID, CA,NV, and OR.

Though the fireball occurred at a time when the Leonids were at their best, it is doubtful it is related to the Leonids. The Leonids are extremely fast meteors, in fact they are almost as fast as meteors can get (~70 km/s). As a result, Leonids rarely last more than a second and usually burn out in one very quick burst. The fact that this fireball lasted for some time (~5 seconds) means it was a much slower meteor that probably descended to a low altitude (~20-50 km). It is more likely it was caused by a small (0.5 to 2 meter) asteroid.

2 Fireballs over British Columbia – November 7

Northern California residents weren’t the only folks who witnessed a brilliant fireball last Friday night. Not one but two fireballs were seen over southern British Columbia. The first fireball occurred at 7:03 pm PST and is the topic of a story on CBC News. The 2nd fireball happened at 7:44 pm PST.

Dave Balam of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory near Victoria, British Columbia sent an image of the 2nd fireball taken with the Observatory’s all-sky camera. (Thanks, Dave!) The brilliance of the fireball is evident by the fact that the sky was completely cloudy at the time. Even with the clouds and rain drops, the fireball is easily visible as it moved across the sky.

Fireball seen over Dominion Astrophyiscal Observatory on Nov. 7 at 7:44 pm PST. Credit: Dave Balam/Dominion Astrophysical Observatory


November 7 – California Fireball

A brilliant fireball was seen over California during the early evening of November 7 at around 5:10 pm. Quite a few reports have been posted in the comments sections on this blog.

A comment posting by Rich gives a rather detailed observation of the event:

“11/07/2009 at approximately 1700hrs we were driving south form Santa Rosa on Hwy 12 and were passing through Sonoma when we noticed a large brilliant white fireball in a SSW direction. It first caught our attention at about 20 to 25deg off the horizon. Our visual on it only lasted only about 3-4 seconds then just before passing the hills in the distance it seemed to go out. There was no associated noise or sign of impact. It was just gone. There was a smoke or debris trail that we could see after the object was gone that was visible for perhaps a minute or so then it was dispersed by the wind.”

Pictures of the residual smoke trail can be seen on the site.

Additional news stories were published by the Daily Democrat, San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, and others.

The fireball was most likely caused by a small asteroid, probably no larger than a basketball. Though it is possible it may have been related to the Taurid meteor shower which is near its maximum in activity, it could easily be unrelated to any shower. The very bright slow fireballs are usually asteroidal in origin while meteor showers are usually produced by comets.

Sept 25th Ontario Fireball

Another week, another brilliant fireball! Last weekend a spectacular fireball was seen over New England. This Friday evening (Sept 25) at ~9 pm, observers from a bit further west in the eastern Great Lakes area witnessed the fireball.  Sightings have been reported to this blog and the AMS Fireball page from Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Thanks to everyone who commented on this page. If you haven’t already, please submit a report to the American Meteor Society’s Fireball page.

Most of the reports are consistent in their description of a meteor at least as bright as the Full Moon and lasting 5-10 seconds. Most reports give a bluish/greenish color for the fireball though some reported a white or reddish color.

Luckily, the University of Southern Ontario operates a number of all-sky fireball cameras in the area. If those cameras were up and running, they all probably detected the fireball. So there’s a good chance that the fireball’s orbit can be determined. This info can be used to recover any meteorites that may have fallen.

[ADDED: The fireball network operated by the U. of Southern Ontario did, in fact, detect the fireball. They have a page devoted to the fireball which includes multiple videos, a diagram of the fireball’s orbit, and the most likely location for the meteorite strewn field.]

The map below is based on reports sent to this blog and the AMS Fireball page. The red stars demote sightings while the 2 yellow stars denote reported sonic booms. The sonic booms located to the west of Toronto may pinpoint the location were the fireball came closest to the ground.


Sept 20th Fireball Over the NE

The Northeast US was treated to a doubleheader of rare sky phenomenon this past weekend. On Saturday evening, a NASA rocket launched from Virginia created a spectacular but short-lived “comet”. Later on that night around 12:30 to 1:00 am, a brilliant fireball was observed along the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Maine. There were even sightings as far inland as the Buffalo area and far eastern Ontario.


The above map plots sightings of the fireball reported to the American Meteor Society’s Fireball page and this blog. The reports are consistent with an object that was at least as bright as the Full Moon and lasted for 3-10 seconds. There were 2 reports of delayed sonic booms, possibly caused by falling meteorites. These reports were relatively close to each in Derry, NH and Westford, MA. The fireball was most likely caused by a small asteroid (maybe a foot or so across) burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Please send any additional reports to the American Meteor Society’s Fireball page.

Update on the Vancouver/Seattle Fireball

There have been more reports of Saturday night’s brilliant fireball seen over British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. The reports were submitted to the American Meteor Society’s Fireball page and to this blog. The fireball was seen as far south as SW Oregon and as far north as southern BC. All observers reported that the fireball moved in roughly an East to West direction and everyone last sighted the fireball to their West.

The map below shows where the fireball was seen. I have labeled those reports that gave a sighting to the north (N) or south (S) of their position.


Zooming in on the Vancouver/Seattle area shows that the boundary between sightings to the North and to the South is near the US/Canada border. This is a good indication that the fireball flew over the border. Interestingly, there is a report of a delayed sonic boom in the Sproat Lake area on Vancouver Island (denoted with a yellow star in the zoomed map).