Real Science: Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!

Mama Fisi
Mama Fisi's picture

I usually don't turn in to bed before 11 PM--trying to go to sleep any earlier just results in an hour of staring at a ceiling I can't see, waiting for the Sandman to beat me to death.  Sunday night was no different...well, not quite.  Shortly after I moved the Chihuahua and got settled under the covers, the gap around the shade on the bedroom window flickered brilliantly for a few seconds.  I assumed it was lightning, and thought no more about it.

Imagine my surprise when I read that a fireball meteor had entered the atmosphere over Pennsylvania at about 11 PM Sunday night!

That would explain why I had heard no thunder, and there was only the one bright flash of light.  Now I kinda wish I'd left the blinds open!

The event was caught on video by a few lucky skywatchers.  Other witnesses described it as being "like a bottlerocket" or "like a plane on fire falling out of the sky."  To make it even stranger, this meteor came in only days after a similar fireball was seen in California.

The Earth's atmosphere is constantly being pummelled by bits of dust and rock from space, most of which harmlessly burns up without even attracting attention.  Much of the debris falls over the oceans, or during the daylight hours, when the sun obscures the fiery demise of these interstellar interlopers.  The vast majority of meteors are small and ephemeral--which is why it's considered lucky to "wish upon a shooting star"--you barely see them before they're gone.  I've often caught glimpses of them, rarely have I seen one straight on.  Living out on a farm with a big, dark sky overhead really improves your chances.  Some meteor showers, created when the Earth passes through a comet's path of particles, occur at regular intervals, like the Perseids and the Leonids.  But other crap can catch us by surprise, like the Russian fireball in 2013.  Or the one that came in over Pennsylvania last night.

It seems that Pennsylvania may be a favored entry point for meteors--a YouTube search for "fireball over PA" yeilds at least a dozen results.  But...not the one I'm looking for.  So here's a link to a news article with embedded videos instead.