Bright Fireball Flames in Southern Skies

Editor’s Note: A rare snowstorm isn’t the only interesting thing that happened across the South this past week. On the night of Tuesday, Jan. 11, an extremely bright fireball meteor streaked over Jackson, Miss., and was visible across several southern states. NASA astronomer Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center confirms the meteor below.

Okay folks, can confirm that this was indeed a fireball or bolide. Unfortunately no video of the actual meteor has surfaced, so I requested an analysis of signals from North American infrasound stations. We had one very clear detection, from the ELFO station in Canada, and a marginal signal at another station east of the visual sightings. Unfortunately the marginal signal is too weak to permit extraction of much information or to triangulate.

The ELFO signal arrived at 10:05:50 PM Central time, some 1 hour and 20 minutes after the event, and came in at an azimuth of 210 degrees. If you look at the attached plot, the black curved line shows the path of the ELFO signal, which intersects nicely with the bulk of the visual observations — indicated by the red dot  — around Jackson, Mississippi (ELFO az gives 32 deg N, 89 deg W — Jackson is at 32 deg N, 90 deg W).

The infrasound signal at ELFO lasted some 2.5 minutes, and the amplitude permits an estimate of the meteor’s energy at 40-80 tons of TNT. If we assume a speed of 15 kilometers per second, we can derive a mass of 171 kg or 376 pounds. Making a further assumption that the meteor was porous rock gives a size, or diameter, of 0.54 meters or 21 inches.

That’s the best estimate at this time — if video data of the meteor itself shows up, please let me know. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you need clarification or more information.

Lunar Eclipse, Sprinkled With Fireballs

The 2010 solstice lunar eclipse is one for the books, but check out these images from two cameras in the Canadian all-sky meteor camera network.These cameras are similar to the ones used for observation at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center: all-sky, black-and-white, and detecting bright meteors, or fireballs. Below are two stacked images of the eclipse:

Stacked image of the eclipse using images taken every five minutes from McMaster University
between 6:32 and 9:32 UT.

A similarly stacked image, combining pictures every five minutes between 5:27-9:37;
it was taken from Orangeville, ON, Canada.

Just as a reminder, the eclipse event timings in UT were:

  • Partial begins: 6:33
  • Total begins: 7:41
  • Mid eclipse: 8:17
  • Total ends: 8:53
  • Partial ends: 10:01

So both cameras captured the full moon as it normally appears, then imaged it as it was eclipsed through the partial and total phases. Unfortunately, bad weather rolled in before the eclipse ended!

The Canadian cameras also detected meteors during the eclipse. Here are a few good ones:

The following two images were also taken from McMaster and Orangeville at about 7:38 UT, just before the total eclipse began, but after the partial eclipse had started. These pictures show an image of a meteor fairly close to the moon in the field of view.

The following three images were recorded from Elginfield, ON, Canada, McMaster, and Orangeville, respectively, at about 9:00 UT, just after the total eclipse phase ended, but before the partial eclipse ended. This meteor ablated by a height of 83 kilometers, or 52 miles.

Images courtesy of the Meteor Physics Group at the University of Western Ontario in London, ON, Canada
Text courtesy of  Danielle Moser, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Meteoroid Environment Office

Fireball in the Sky!

It was brief, but it was brilliant! On Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 at approximately 8:50 p.m. CDT, cameras operated by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recorded a slow moving fireball moving from the north to the southwest. 

Enhanced-color image of Alabama fireball meteor.

The fireball was moving approximately 35,300 mph (15.8 km/s). It appeared at an altitude of 45.5 miles (73.2 km) and ablated, or burned up, at an altitude of 25.3 miles (40.7 km).  The meteor experienced significant deceleration as it entered the atmosphere, resulting in a meteor trail that lasted about three seconds, seen in the movie below:

Using data from cameras at both Huntsville and Chickamauga, Ga., astronomers at the Marshall Center determined that the meteor was located over Marion County, Ala. 

Diagram of fireball’s path over Marion County, Ala.

Images and video courtesy of Danielle Moser, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.