Fire from the sky!
February 15, 2009 11:05 AM   Subscribe

There was a huge fireball in the sky; looking southwest from my back yard this morning. How do I find out what it was, or where it landed?

So, I'm standing outside this morning (in North East Texas), about 10:30 am I'd guess, looking to the southwest, and there was a huge fireball streaked across the sky. I didn't hear anything hit, and it appeared to flame out before it crossed the horizon line...but I can't find any news about it...and with anything in the sky, it's really hard to tell how far away something is.

Did anyone else see this? NASA and are reporting that there are meteor showers this time of the year, but anything big enough to be visible in the daylight would have to be relatively close or relatively large. Reportedly two satellites collided on 2/10/09, but I'm not finding much on the debris coming to earth.

It was astounding; and I'd love to know what it was, but I'm not even sure where else to look besides NASA and spaceweather.

Help me figure out what this was.
posted by dejah420 to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here in Kentucky, there have been reports of debris/fireballs, etc. from those two satellites that collided earlier this week
posted by dilettante at 11:10 AM on February 15, 2009

Yeah, I saw the reports from KY, but this looked like it was a couple of blocks away, and to the south of me...and I'm already south of KY.
posted by dejah420 at 11:15 AM on February 15, 2009

There's this.
posted by jvilter at 11:18 AM on February 15, 2009

We had a meteorite a few months ago fall in the Prairies in Canada, a big fireball (amazing! i saw it myself!). Just wait and see on the news, it'll show up I'm sure.
posted by lizbunny at 11:18 AM on February 15, 2009

You might try monitoring the AMS 2009 sightings log. They also have a reporting form.


7. How bright does a meteor have to be before there is a chance of it reaching the ground as a meteorite?

Generally speaking, a fireball must be greater than about magnitude -8 to -10 in order to potentially produce a meteorite fall. Two important additional requirements are that (1) the parent meteoroid must be of asteroidal origin, composed of sufficiently sturdy material for the trip through the atmosphere, and (2) the meteoroid must enter the atmosphere as a relatively slow meteor. Meteoroids of asteroid origin make up only a small percentage (about 5%) of the overall meteoroid population, which is primarily cometary in nature.

Photographic fireball studies have indicated that a fireball must usually still be generating visible light below the 20 km (12 mile) altitude level in order to have a good probability of producing a meteorite fall. Very bright meteors of magnitude -15 or better have been studied which produced no potential meteorites, especially those having a cometary origin.

Several other items of interest in that particular FAQ page, too.

As a general note, "holy-crap-that-was-huge" fireballs are often significantly far away and surprisingly small. Not that they aren't awfully interesting. You were extremely lucky to see it.

(This is just on the 'meteor' side of the question, rather than the 'satellite' side.)
posted by gimonca at 11:31 AM on February 15, 2009

Jvilter, thanks for that link, it lead me to twitter, which lead to news reports that the FAA has confirmed that space debris is landing all around my area, assumed to be fallout from the satellite collision.

I think I'm going to see about borrowing a horse from a rancher friend over that direction and go riding around the the non-populated areas in the direction I saw the fireball and see if I can find space debris. It's a perfect day to be outside on a horse anyway. (Assuming I don't get conked on the head by falling metal, which seems like a statistical risk I'm willing to take.)
posted by dejah420 at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2009

Data point: When I was a kid, my and my dad saw something that looked like Jupiter at first- but kept expanding into a triangle-shaped fireball. We finally decided it was the secondary stage breaking off a satellite launch.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:41 AM on February 15, 2009

Probably not a significant risk, but you might want to be a trifle cautious if you do find some.

Iridium satellites are maneuverable, and I think they used hydrazine fuel (does the name come from the use of iridium as a catalyst in the rocket engine?).

And possible hydrazine contamination was cited as a reason for advising people to stay away from debris from the Columbia disaster, as well as for the US shootdown of that satellite recently.

By the way, I also think exposure to hydrazine is the most reasonable explanation for astronaut Lisa Nowak's psychotic break.
posted by jamjam at 12:25 PM on February 15, 2009

Wow, thanks jamjam. I hadn't even though of that. Probably just as well that all the horses were busy. :)
posted by dejah420 at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2009

jamjam: The name comes from the original plan to have 77 satellites in the constellation, and 77 is the atomic number (and number of electrons) of the iridium atom.
posted by AstroGuy at 1:03 PM on February 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Someone on the main Austin LJ community asked about this and now I can point her here. Hurrah!
posted by batmonkey at 1:32 PM on February 15, 2009

Link to the Bad Astronomy blog on Discover Magazine (via astronomy LJ). Many people are reporting this, and a link to the debris of the recent collision may be possible.
posted by Schmucko at 2:12 PM on February 15, 2009

Ooh! Video from News 8! I vote meteor.
posted by steef at 3:03 PM on February 15, 2009

AP: Debris falling in Texas, possibly from satellites.
posted by ericb at 3:35 PM on February 15, 2009

yee gods the horror of local news web design continues to plague the nation. that is a bright fireball, though!
posted by mwhybark at 4:53 PM on February 15, 2009

This is currently the lead story on
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:36 PM on February 15, 2009

FAA is now saying it was not satellite debris, more likely a meteor.
posted by knave at 1:49 PM on February 17, 2009

« Older Are you expected to give a gift whether or not you...   |   SW Michigan economy, how bad? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.