Well over 100 people in California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon observed a fireball at 5:35 p.m. PST Dec. 19. This event was unusual not for the brightness of the fireball—similar to that of a crescent Moon—but for the persistent train left behind after the object ablated. This persistent train lasted for minutes (compared to the one second duration of the fireball) and was caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles left behind by the meteoroid as it broke apart in Earth’s atmosphere. Upper atmosphere winds distorted the train over time, giving it a curvy, “corkscrew” appearance.
An analysis of the eyewitness accounts indicates that the meteor first became visible at an altitude of 48 miles over the Pacific Ocean some 50 miles west of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Moving west of south at 63,000 miles per hour, it managed to survive only a second or so before ablating and breaking apart at an altitude of 34 miles above the ocean.
A live broadcast of the meteor shower from a camera in Huntsville, AL (if our weather cooperates!) will be available on NASA TV and the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook starting around 9 p.m. Eastern time (8 p.m. CT) and continuing until the early hours of August 13.
The Perseid meteor shower is here! Perseid meteors, caused by debris left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle, began streaking across the skies in late July and will peak on August 12.
The Perseid meteor shower is often considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year due to its high rates and pleasant late-summer temperatures. This year’s shower peak, however, has the added bonus of dark skies courtesy of an early-setting crescent Moon. Combine these ideal observing conditions and high rates (an average of 60 meteors per hour at the peak) with the fact that the best nights for viewing – August 11 to 12 and August 12 to 13 – occur on a weekend and you have a recipe for successfully viewing some celestial fireworks!
When Should I Look?
Make plans to stay up late or wake up early the nights of August 11 to 12 and August 12 to 13. The Perseids are best seen between about 2 a.m. your local time and dawn.
If those hours seem daunting, not to worry! You can go out after dark, around 9 p.m. local time, and see Perseids. Just know that you won’t see nearly as many as you would had you gone out during the early morning hours.
How can you see the Perseids if the weather doesn’t cooperate where you are? A live broadcast of the meteor shower from a camera in Huntsville, AL (if our weather cooperates!) will be available on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook starting around 8 p.m. CT and continuing until the early hours of August 13. Meteor videos recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network are also available each morning; to identify Perseids in these videos, look for events labeled “PER.”
Why Are They Called Perseids?
All meteors associated with one particular shower have similar orbits, and they all appear to come from the same place in the sky, called the radiant. Meteor showers take their name from the location of the radiant. The Perseid radiant is in the constellation Perseus. Similarly, the Geminid meteor shower, observed each December, is named for a radiant in the constellation Gemini.
How to Observe Perseids
If it’s not cloudy, pick an observing spot away from bright lights, lay on your back, and look up! You don’t need any special equipment to view the Perseids – just your eyes. (Note that telescopes or binoculars are not recommended.) Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky so don’t worry about looking in any particular direction.
While observing this month, not all of the meteors you’ll see belong to the Perseid meteor shower. Some are sporadic background meteors. And some are from other weaker showers also active right now, including the Alpha Capricornids, the Southern Delta Aquariids, and the Kappa Cygnids. How can you tell if you’ve seen a Perseid? If you see a meteor try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Perseus, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Perseid. If finding constellations isn’t your forte, then note that Perseids are some of the fastest meteors you’ll see!
Pro tip: Remember to let your eyes become adjusted to the dark (it takes about 30 minutes) – you’ll see more meteors that way. Try to stay off of your phone too, as looking at devices with bright screens will negatively affect your night vision and hence reduce the number of meteors you see!
A bright fireball lit up skies over Michigan at 8:08 p.m. EST on Jan. 16, an event that was witnessed and reported by hundreds of observers, many who captured video of the bright flash.
Based on the latest data, the extremely bright streak of light in the sky was caused by a six-foot-wide space rock — a small asteroid. It entered Earth’s atmosphere somewhere over southeast Michigan at an estimated 36,000 mph and exploded in the sky with the force of about 10 tons of TNT. The blast wave felt at ground level was equivalent to a 2.0 magnitude earthquake.
The fireball was so bright that it was seen through clouds by our meteor camera located at Oberlin college in Ohio, about 120 miles away.
Events this size aren’t much of a concern. For comparison, the blast caused by an asteroid estimated to be around 65 feet across entering over Chelyabinsk, Russia, was equivalent to an explosion of about 500,000 tons of TNT and shattered windows in six towns and cities in 2013. Meteorites produced by fireballs like this have been known to damage house roofs and cars, but there has never been an instance of someone being killed by a falling meteorite in recorded history.
The Earth intercepts around 100 tons of meteoritic material each day, the vast majority are tiny particles a millimeter in diameter or smaller. These particles produce meteors are that are too faint to be seen in the daylight and often go unnoticed at night. Events like the one over Michigan are caused by a much rarer, meter-sized object. About 10 of these are seen over North America per year, and they often produce meteorites.
There are more than 400 eyewitness reports of the Jan. 16 meteor, primarily coming from Michigan. Reports also came from people in nearby states and Ontario, Canada, according to the American Meteor Society. Based on these accounts, we know that the fireball started about 60 miles above Highway 23 north of Brighton and travelled a little north of west towards Howell, breaking apart at an altitude of 15 miles. Doppler weather radar picked up the fragments as they fell through the lower parts of the atmosphere, landing in the fields between the township of Hamburg and Lakeland. One of the unusual things about this meteor is that it followed a nearly straight-down trajectory, with the entry angle being just 21 degrees off vertical. Normally, meteors follow a much more shallow trajectory and have a longer ground track as a result.
NASA’s Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center reported that a space-based lightning detector called the Geostationary Lightning Mapper — “GLM” for short — observed the bright meteor from its location approximately 22,300 miles above Earth. The SPoRT team helps organizations like the National Weather Service use unique Earth observations to improve short-term forecasts.
GLM is an instrument on NOAA’s GOES-16 spacecraft, one of the nation’s most advanced geostationary weather satellites. Geostationary satellites circle Earth at the same speed our planet is turning, which lets them stay in a fixed position in the sky. In fact, GOES is short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. GLM detected the bright light from the fireball and located its exact position within minutes. The timely data quickly backed-up eyewitness reports, seismic data, Doppler radar, and infrasound detections of this event.
Much like the nation’s weather satellites help us make decisions that protect people and property on Earth, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office watches the skies to understand the meteoroid environment and the risks it poses to astronauts and spacecraft, which do not have the protection of Earth’s atmosphere. We also keep an eye out for bright meteors, so that we can help people understand that “bright light in the night sky.”
For a few seconds early Thursday, night turned into day as an extremely bright fireball lit the pre-dawn sky over much of Arizona, blinding all-sky meteor cameras as far away as western New Mexico.
Based on the latest data, a small asteroid estimated at 5 feet (1-2 meters) in diameter – with a mass of a few tons and a kinetic energy of approximately half a kiloton – entered Earth’s atmosphere above Arizona just before 4 a.m. local (MST) time. NASA estimates that the asteroid was moving at about 40,200 miles per hour (64,700 kilometers per hour).
Orionid meteors appear every year around this time when Earth travels through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet. This year the peak will occur on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 21 into the morning of Thursday, Oct. 22.
“The Orionids will probably show weak activity this year,” says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office . “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere will probably give us about a dozen meteors per hour.”
The best time to look for Orionid meteors is just before sunrise on Thursday, October 22nd, when Earth encounters the densest part of Halley’s debris stream.
Observing is easy: Wake up a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up. No telescope is necessary to see Orionids shooting across the sky. Viewing conditions are favorable this year, as the light from the gibbous Moon should set by 2 a.m. EDT time, permitting good viewing just before dawn when the rates will be at their highest.
A live stream of the night sky from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. will be available via Ustream beginning October 21, at 10 p.m. EDT. The live feed is an alternative for stargazers experiencing bad weather or light-polluted night skies. If the weather in Huntsville is clear, Orionids may be seen in the feed as early as 11:30 p.m. EDT, though the hours before dawn should show the most Orionid activity.
The display will be framed by some of the prettiest stars in the night sky. In addition to Orionids, you’ll see the Dog Star Sirius, bright winter constellations such as Orion, Gemini, and Taurus, and the planets Jupiter and Venus. Even if the shower is a dud, the rest of the sky is dynamite.
Set your alarm, brew some hot chocolate and enjoy the show!
A very bright fireball seen over New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania at 4:45:17 EST this morning, February 17th. It was captured by three NASA cameras. The video came from a NASA camera located at Allegheny Observatory near Pittsburgh, PA. The other two cameras are located at Hiram College and Oberlin College, both in northern Ohio.
A bright meteor occurred around 5:18 am CDT the morning of September 30th. It was first detected 66 miles above Tennessee City, TN by four NASA All Sky Fireball Network cameras (located in Huntsville, AL, Chickamauga, GA, Tullahoma, TN, and Rosman, NC) and moved slightly south of east at a speed of 147,600 mph. It traveled just over 1 mile through the atmosphere before burning up about 53 miles above the ground.
The American Meteor Society has received over 80 reports from the public about a bright fireball seen on July 13, 2013 at 04:16:18 UTC (corresponding to July 13, 2013 at 00:16:18 EDT). Fireball sightings range from Georgia and South Carolina up through Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky, with most coming from North Carolina.
The NASA All Sky Fireball Network detected this fireball with four cameras stationed in Chickamauga, Georgia, Tullahoma, Tennessee, Dahlonega, Georgia, and Cartersville, Georgia. The event was just on the edge of the field of view in each camera, but bright enough to get the attention of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama, the engineers who run the NASA Network.
Preliminary analysis of NASA data indicates that this fireball came in at a speed of 28.1 km/s (62,900 mph) at an angle of 32 degrees from horizontal. The 600 g (1.3 lb) body was first picked up over Stanley, North Carolina at an altitude of 66.1 km (41 miles) and ablated most if not all of its mass away until it was last detected at 22.6 km (14 miles) over Morganton, North Carolina.
Image of the North Carolina fireball of July 13, 2013 taken by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network camera in Chickamauga, Georgia. The fireball exhibited a bright flare towards the end of its path. (Image Credit: NASA MEO)
The fireball trajectory is shown as a green line – the meteor moved from southeast to northwest. The southeastern branch of the NASA All Sky Fireball Network is shown as diamonds – red diamonds indicate that the fireball was observed from that station. Stations with a black diamond did not observe the fireball due to weather or geometry. Observer report information (blue people symbols) is taken from the American Meteor Society. (Image Credit: NASA MEO)
A composite image of 13 Eta Aquarid meteors from the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Mayhill, New Mexico the morning of May 6, 2013. Clouds seriously hampered our view of the ETAs this year. Observations reported to the International Meteor Organization indicate an outburst in the early hours of May 6th UTC.