Bright Leonid Fireball

There are numerous reports of a bright fireball over northwest Alabama on Sunday, Nov. 18 at approximately 7:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. CST). Southeastern cameras  managed by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office recorded the fireball, which was brighter than the moon.

(Credit: NASA/MFSC/MEO) 


The image above is from the Marshall Space Flight Center camera. The moon is the bright object at the bottom right, and the fireball is the REALLY bright object. Even though this was a very bright fireball, the meteor fragmented too high in the atmosphere to produce meteorites on the ground — very spectacular, but nothing of substance survived.

Details for the fireball meteor:

Time: Sunday, Nov. 18, 7:29:25 p.m. EST (6:29:25 p.m. CST)
Speed: 28,400 mph
Direction: Roughly north to south

The fireball appeared 49 miles above the Alabama/Tennessee state line just  north of Athens, Ala. It disintegrated 28 miles above Ole Carriage Dr., just east of Athens. A map of the meteor trajectory appears below.


This may very well be the brightest fireball we have seen with the Marshall Center camera!

Halloween Fireballs also known as Taurid Meteors are Upon Us

“Halloween fireballs” or Taurid meteors are frequently seen in the night sky from mid-October until mid-November. The Marshall all-sky camera network captured an image of an early Halloween fireball Tuesday morning. The fireball appeared low on the horizon from Huntsville at 6:10 a.m. Tuesday morning and was visible just above trees from the Tullahoma station.

“The bolide or fireball appeared some 44 miles above a point midway between the towns of Stanton and Mason, Tennessee and moved slightly north of east at a speed 3 times faster than that of the International Space Station.” said Dr. Bill Cooke, lead of Marshall Space Flight Center’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Ala.  “The fireball finally terminated above the town of Pinson, which is southeast of Jackson, TN.,” Cooke continued, “with an altitude at last visibility of 18.1 miles, which is fairly low for a meteor.”

Widely referred to as shooting stars, meteors are generated when debris enters and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. Taurids are thought to be debris left behind by Encke’s comet.

Image credit:  NASA/MSFC


Perseid Peak Performance

The All Sky camera network captured over 183 multi-station Perseid meteors Saturday night. Some truly spectacular events — see images below.

 The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet’s debris. These bits of ice and dust — most over 1,000 years old — burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year.

Bright Fireball Over Georgia

The NASA Meteoroid Environment Office can confirm a bright fireball observed by several eyewitnesses in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee on Mar. 7, 2012 at 10:19:11 p.m. EST. The fireball was observed by three NASA cameras located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Tullahoma Tenn., and Cartersville, Ga. The meteor was first recorded at an altitude of 52.7 miles (84.8 km) southeast of Tunnel Hill, Ga., moving slightly south of west at approximately 15 km/s (33,500 mph). It was last seen 14.4 miles (23.2 km) above State Road 95 south east of Rock Springs, Ga. A map of the trajectory is available here: The yellow line is the initial automatic meteor trajectory solution. The orange line is the manual (refined) meteor trajectory.

Below are video still images and a short video captured from the cameras at the Marshall Center in Huntsville, Ala. and Cartersville, Ga. 

Credits: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment Office

NASA Cameras Catch Speeding Fireball

There was a bright fireball visible over north Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and South Carolina at 7:02:36 PM EST last night. All 4 NASA meteor cameras in the SouthEast picked it up 48 miles above the town of Rossville, just south of Chattanooga, moving at 9 miles per second (32,400 mph) slightly north of east. The meteor appears to have ablated (“burned up”) at 23 miles altitude SW of of Ocoee, TN. Though unusual, it is unlikely that this object produced any noticeable meteorites on the ground.

Orbit indicates that this meteor was asteroidal in origin, with an aphelion (farthest point from the Sun) in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.



NASA All Sky Fireball Network Watches the Skies

A meteor streaks across the skies above Huntsville, Ala. (NASA)

The night sky is constantly changing. The Earth rotates and revolves about the sun, creating a backdrop of stars that is always in motion. The moon grows large in the sky, and then smaller again, in a seemingly endless cycle. Now and then, brilliant streaks of light can be seen in the night sky, there and gone again in a split second. These “shooting stars”, also called meteors, are seen when bits of rock and ice, the leftovers from voyaging comets and asteroids, enter the atmosphere and ablate, or burn up. These tiny travelers, and the light they produce, are the concern of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office, or MEO, at the Marshall Space Flight Center which is responsible for understanding the meteoroid environment spacecrafts may encounter during missions.

To more closely track and study bright meteors called fireballs, the NASA All Sky Fireball Network watches the skies with six specialized black and white video cameras set up in four states scattered across the Southeast and Southwest. The network’s multiple cameras provide overlapping views of the night sky, thus able to detect the same fireball to allow calculation of its location, speed, and orbit. The network, established by the Meteoroid Environment Office in 2008, sees several multi-station meteors (those detected by more than one camera) each night. The resulting fireball data — in the form of images, movies, diagrams, and text files — is posted online daily. The office uses this data to construct models of the meteoroid environment, something very important to spacecraft designers.

With cameras now in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and New Mexico, the NASA All Sky Fireball Network plans to expand into North Carolina and beyond in 2012. The ultimate goal is a network of about 15 cameras in the United States in science centers, planetaria, and schools. To engage students, and promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines in the classroom, the MEO has created a workshop for educators with information about meteors, a description of the network, and suggestions for how to use the data in the classroom.


Leonids Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight!

The annual Leonid meteor shower is expected to reach peak activity tonight, November 17, at about 10:40 p.m. EST. Leonid meteor showers occur when the Earth runs into a stream of small icy debris left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle as it moves about the Sun.

The best viewing opportunity is tonight after midnight, when the constellation Leo rises above the eastern horizon. Leonids can be viewed any place on Earth except Antarctica — given the sky is clear.

“The moon is going to be a major interference, but we could see a rate of about 20 per hour,” said Bill Cooke, Lead of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

For best meteor viewing Cooke suggests going to a location away from city lights, dressing warmly, and lie flat on your back and look straight up. No special viewing equipment needed —  just your eyes.

The Leonids occur each year in November.

At 1:45 am MST on November 17th,  NASA’s all sky camera at the New Mexico State University caught this image of a Leonid meteor streaking through the skies.

One Night, Five Meteor Showers

On the night of Oct. 15-16, NASA’s All-sky camera network saw meteors from five different meteor showers! October is known to be a busy month in the world of meteor showers, but even five is an unusually high number.


 The last meteor seen in the early morning skies over Huntsville, Ala., on the night of the Oct. 15-16.


To see videos of these meteors, and others, go to and select 20111016 on the left panel. In addition to those five shower meteors, eight sporadic or background  meteors were detected. The five showers were: Delta Aurigids, or DAU, October Ursa Majorids, or OCU, Chi Taurids, or CTA, Orionids , or ORI, and Eta Geminids, or EGE. See the list at the end of this post for more information on each shower.


The only shower mentioned above that would be worth observing for yourself is the Orionids. The Orionids peak this Friday evening — the night of Oct. 21-22 — and are best viewed anytime after midnight. They are one of the last showers of the year that may have favorable weather to lie outside all night. If you are in Northern Alabama, October evenings are still quite pleasant for stargazing. Luckily for you the moon won’t be too much of a problem. Only a small fraction of the moon is illuminated, unlike many major meteor showers this year whose rates were considerably hampered because the light from a full moon washed them out.


Delta Aurigids, or DAU: Active from Sept. 20 — Oct. 16, peaking on Oct. 3 with only two meteors per hour. Velocity of 143,000 miles/hour. The Delta Aurigids are not a well-known shower thus any observations refine the information we know about them.


October Ursa Majorids, or OCU: Active from Oct. 12-19, peaking on Oct. 15. Velocity of 119 miles/hour. This is a very minor shower rates of less than one per hour. Radiant — where the meteors appear to come from — is in Ursa Major.


Chi Taurids, or CTA:  Active from Oct. 10 — Nov. 10, peaking on Nov. 3. Velocity approximately 94,000 miles/hour. This is also a shower that has very little known about it. It was recently discovered in a survey to find minor meteor showers using a meteor radar (Brown et al, 2010).


Orionids, or ORI: Active from Oct. 2 — Nov. 7, peaking on Oct. 21 with rates up to 25 per hour. Velocity of 150,000 miles/hour. Radiant is in the constellation Orion.


Eta Geminids, or EGE:  Active from Oct. 14-27.  Peaking on Oct. 18 with rates of three per hour. These are fast-moving meteors that average at 157,000 miles/hour. Eta Geminids are often confused with Orionids since their velocity and peaks are similar.


Brown, P., Wong, D.K., Weryk, R.J., Wiegert, P.

A meteoroid stream survey using the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar II: Identification of minor showers using a 3D wavelet transform

Icarus 207 (2010) 66–81.



Credits: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment Office/Rhiannon Blaauw, Bill Cooke


Sunset at the ALaMO

A new color all-sky camera has opened its eyes at the ALaMO, or Automated Lunar and Meteor Observatory, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Watch its inaugural video below, showing sunset fade into evening at the Marshall Center on Oct. 5, 2011. The time-lapse video spans about 2:28 hours, and the Moon is the object that emerges at the lower left side to cross the sky so brightly.


The ALaMO consists of two observatory domes, a 15-meter, or 50-foot, tower with a roll-off roof and an operations center with laboratory space. A 14-inch Ritchey-Chrétien telescope resides in the tower, and a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain in one of the two observation domes.


Check out this curious short-term visitor, seen on Oct. 6, 2011. 




Bright Meteor Lights Up Atlanta Skies

The video and images below show a very bright meteor that streaked over the skies of Atlanta, Ga., on the night of Aug. 28, 2011.

View from all sky camera in Cartersville, Ga., operated by
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
 › View linking/embed version of video

Some stats on the meteor:

Initial speed: 23.6 km/s (52,800 mph)
Start location: 84.131 W, 33.981 N, Altitude 104.6 km (65.0 miles)
End location:  84.109 W, 33.524 N, Altitude 41.3 km (25.7 miles)


View from all sky camera located at Huntsville, Al.

View from all sky camera located at Tullahoma, Tenn.

View from all sky camera located at Cartersville, Ga.

The meteor was too bright for the all sky camera in Cartersville, Ga., to accurately determine the center of light, so manual analysis will be required to determine a more accurate end point. Results will be posted here on the blog as they become available.



Video and image credits: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment Office