Hundreds Witness Bright Fireball Blaze A Trail Over New England
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Hundreds of people have reported seeing a bright fireball blazing a trail across the early evening sky on Sunday, January 12. The fiery visitor, which appeared brighter than the near full moon for most people, streaked across the sky at around 5:20 p.m. EST, according to the American Meteor Society (AMS).
Most witness reports had come from Connecticut, but people from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maine also reported seeing a bright streak in the night sky. Based on the reports, the estimated trajectory of the object is from southwest Vermont heading north and terminating over Rutland County.
WGME13 News’ chief meteorologist Charlie Lopresti posted a photo of the fireball along with the following tweet: “Great viewer photo from Plum Island Beach in MA of the “fireball” reported by hundreds around 5:30PM yesterday.”
“I thought there was a plane crashing or something,” Hyannis resident Nick Franco, told Amy Anthony of Cape Cod Times. He was at the Hyannisport Club with his son, Nicholas, 11, when they saw the meteor. “It was very impressive.”
“It was so big and so bright,” said Kathleen Thomas of South Yarmouth. Thomas was driving on Route 28 in West Dennis when she saw the meteor. “I thought it was a plane crash.”
As of 9 p.m. EST Sunday night, more than 100 reports had filtered into the AMS website.
“You can have a meteor any old time,” Peter Kurtz, the treasurer for the Cape Cod Astronomical Society, told the Cape Cod Times.
Kurtz, who did not see the meteor himself, said such a phenomenon is quite common. He noted that it could be possible that this meteor is a remnant of the recent meteor shower – the Quadrantids – or possibly just a “random” visitor.
The AMS released a heat map (shown above) showing the concentrations of meteor reports from Sunday night’s event.
Scott Sutherland of Geekquinox posted in a blog that dozens of fireballs burn through the atmosphere every single day. Most go unnoticed because they happen over the world’s oceans, over remote areas of land or they occur during times when viewing conditions are obscured by daylight or clouds.
Still, rare sightings do occur, as was the case with the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in February 2013 or the fireball that was seen by at least a thousand people in Iowa and Minnesota just after Christmas.
Sutherland claims that this fireball may have been a “sporadic” – one that is not associated with any particular meteor shower.
“However, there is some small potential for the debris from Comet ISON to encounter our atmosphere right around now. The grains of dust blasting off the comet as it passed Earth’s orbit were figured to be extremely tiny, so if we encounter them at all, we probably won’t see much out of it (maybe some ‘noctilucent clouds’). However, ISON gave us some nice surprises before it burned up, so who knows, it may surprise us again,” wrote Sutherland in his blog.
According to the AMS, the best place to look for any possible remnants of Comet ISON would be toward the constellation Leo, which rises about 8 p.m. and sets well after sunrise.
As for the New England fireball, experts said it is rare to actually see a meteor as bright as, or even brighter than, the moon. Of course, meteors of this brightness are not uncommon, given the perspective of the planet as a whole. The most typical bright fireballs are associated with chunks of space debris that enter Earth’s atmosphere. And with an increasing age of interconnectivity, we tend to hear about such events all the more often.