There was a very bright fireball over middle Tennessee last night, October 20, at 7:57:09 PM CDT. Four NASA all sky cameras, located in Tullahoma, Huntsville, Chickamauga, and North Georgia College, first detected the fireball at an altitude of 54 miles, moving slightly north of west at 47,000 miles per hour. The meteor, estimated to weigh around 10 pounds, travelled some 64 miles through the atmosphere before fragmenting 24 miles above the town of Brentwood, south of Nashville. At its brightest, the fireball rivaled the first quarter Moon, gathering a fair amount of attention in the tri-state area.
The fireball was NOT associated with the Orionid meteor shower, which is currently active. It was moving too slow and coming from the wrong direction.
North America has a pretty good seat for this cosmic event.
1. First, check the visibility map to make sure it’s visible from your location.
2. Then check the weather – if you are expecting clouds, then Mother Nature has just rained on your parade and you won’t be able to see any meteors from outside your home. However, we will continue to stream clear skies here overnight, trying to find the best view of the night sky from our network of ground based telescopes.
3. If the weather gods are smiling down upon you, find a safe, dark location – away from city lights and lay out beneath the stars. You don’t need to look in any particular direction, just straight up, but away from the moon. Meteors can appear all over the sky.
4. Add a lawn chair or sleeping bag and some snacks and you should be set!
Step outside and take a look at the skies on the evening of May 23 into the early morning of May 24. Scientists are anticipating a new meteor shower, the May Camelopardalids. No one has seen it before, but the shower could put on a show that would rival the prolific Perseid meteor shower in August. The Camelopardalids shower would be dust resulting from a periodic comet, 209P/LINEAR.
“Some forecasters have predicted a meteor storm of more than 200 meteors per hour,” said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s. The parent comet doesn’t appear to be very active now, so there could be a great show, or there could be little activity.”
The best time to look is during the hours between 06:00 and 08:00 Universal Time on May 24, or between 2-4 a.m. EDT. That’s when forecast models say Earth is most likely to encounter the comet’s debris. North Americans are favored because their peak occurs during nighttime hours while the radiant is high in the sky.
On the night of May 23-24, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke will host a live web chat from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EDT. Go to this page to learn more about the May Camelopardalids, to get information about the live chat and to view the live Ustream view that will be available during the chat.
Last night at 8:38:30 PM CDT, a basketball size meteoroid entered the atmosphere 63 miles above Columbia, South Carolina. Moving northwest at 78,000 miles per hour, it burned up 52 miles above the Tennessee country side, just north of Chattanooga. This fireball was not part of any meteor shower and belongs to a class of meteors called Earthgrazers. These meteors skim along the upper part of the atmosphere before burning up. This one travelled a distance of 290 miles, which is quite rare for a meteor.
There will still be Eta Aquarids visible tonight, but at a rate of less than half of last night’s peak. Those in the southern hemisphere will again see more Eta Aquarids than those in the northern hemisphere, but pretty much everywhere in the world except the Arctic Circle has a chance to view the shower. You can spot meteors any time after dark, but Eta Aquarids meteors will not be visible until after 2:30 AM local time, when the constellation of Aquarius rises above the horizon. The highest visibility for Eta Aquarids will be in the couple of hours before dawn, sometime after about 4:00 a.m. local time.
You don’t need special equipment like a telescope: you only need your eyes. If you have clear skies, go outside to a place away from city lights. Lie on your back and look straight up at the sky, allowing your eyes 30-45 minutes to adjust to the dark. Meteors may appear from any direction, and this gives you the widest possible field of view to spot one. On any given night, it’s possible to see 6-8 sporadic meteors per hour, even without a specific shower event.
The annual Perseid meteor shower peaked on Aug. 12 and 13, 2013, filling the sky with streaks of light caused by the meteoroids burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. Big meteor showers like the Perseids, are caused when Earth travels through a region of space filled with debris shed by a comet. The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are the small fragments from comet Swift-Tuttle. These bits of ice and dust wander in space for centuries, finally burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year.
Compilation of Perseid meteors taken by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network cameras. Video credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO
This Perseid fireball meteor was observed in the skies over Chickamauga, Ga., on Aug. 11, 2013, at 2:14:49 a.m. EDT. It was also recorded by four other cameras in the NASA All Sky Fireball Network. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO
Same meteor — same location — two different meteor cameras! The video shows the same meteor (an Eta Aquarid!) from one of our all-sky cameras and from our wide-field camera (~20×15 degree FOV) both located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
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.
Despite interference from the moon and clouds (and rising sun!), this morning we snagged our first observations of the 2013 Eta Aquarids. Here’s an image of one from the all sky camera in Tullahoma, Tennessee. The Eta Aquarids peak in the pre-dawn hours on May 6 and are material from Halley’s comet. They zoom around the solar system at speeds near 148,000 mph. The one seen here burned up completely in our atmosphere over Nunnelly, Tennessee at a height of 58.7 miles above the ground.
A Lyrid meteor streaks though the dawn sky over North Georgia College and State University. Moving at 105,800 mph, this inch-diameter piece of Comet Thatcher lasted less than one and a half seconds, burning up 46 miles above Earth’s surface. The second image shows the same meteor seen from the Tellus Science Museum located in Cartersville, GA, some 50 miles distant. By measuring the change in the meteor’s position (triangulation), we can determine its trajectory and speed.
Lyrids are pieces of debris from the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher and have been observed for more than 2,600 years. In mid-April of each year, Earth runs into the stream of debris from the comet, which causes the Lyrid meteor shower. You can tell if a meteor belongs to a particular shower by tracing back its path to see if it originates near a specific point in the sky, called the radiant. The constellation in which the radiant is located gives the shower its name, and in this case, Lyrids appear to come from a point in the constellation Lyra.