Great Balls of Fire!
November 10, 2006 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Fireballs are not altogether uncommon. They are often associated with known meteor showers (and other times not). They are sometimes "earth crosser" asteroids, cometary debris, or simply man-made space junk. Sometimes they are extremely well documented. The March 7, 2003 Park Forest fireball/meteorite (pdf) was recovered and recorded by police car cameras: (AVIs: 1, 2, 3) Perhaps the most incredible is the one that got away on August 10, 1972. Recorded by many still and movie cameras as it was seen in daylight over the Grand Tetons, it was also recorded by a previously secret satellite during it's 1-1/2 minute skip off the earth's atmosphere. See also: How to observe, and report fireballs.
posted by spock (29 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
yay for the post quality, thanks spock \/
posted by elpapacito at 10:32 AM on November 10, 2006

In December of (I believe) 1987, my wife and I were coming home from taking my baby daughter to the emergency room at around midnight when we were drawn to an extremely bright light in the western sky that appeared to be moving. My first thought was that it was aircraft landing lights coming directly at me, but it's apparent movement was slowly towards the south. It continued to grow in brightness and I was amazed because it was far too late after sunset to be a satellite. As I said to my wife "What is that?" it suddenly burst into visible flames — flames trailing off behind it like some ancient illustration of a comet. I said that it must be a plane going down and we watched it as it continued -slowly- over the horizon (following the apparent curvature of the sky) and disappeared still glowing brightly to the south. In later days, newspapers said that it had been seen from South Dakota through Louisiana and (if it didn't burn up completely) probably landed somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. I have, so far, found no mention of it online. I would never have believed it, if I hadn't seen it myself.
posted by spock at 10:40 AM on November 10, 2006

posted by hellphish at 10:43 AM on November 10, 2006

I saw one once in my backyard a few years ago. It lit up the night for a couple seconds and left a vapor trail. It blew me away.
posted by wsg at 10:51 AM on November 10, 2006

I saw the 1972 one as a kid, it skimmed low in the east over the Monashee range, in full daylight. It triggered a lifelong interest in astronomy. And blew my tiny yet functional mind.
posted by Rumple at 11:16 AM on November 10, 2006

I saw the the August 10, 1972 meteor from Seeley Lake Montana during my 10th birthday party. I'm afraid my memory may be tainted because I've also seen the 8mm motion picture of the event, and the background topography is similar. At the time, It seemed more or less like a jet airplane leaving an anomalous contrail. My memory, if accurate, was that it was quite low in the sky, and leaving a pinkish contrail.

Several years ago, I stayed up late to watch a meteor shower. The last one I saw was the best one, as it left an evanescent, serpentine contrail.

I think I have seen the 8mm film on the 'net somewhere, I'll poke around and look for it. Thanks for the great post Spock!
posted by Tube at 11:18 AM on November 10, 2006

Fireballs are still available in my neighborhood.
posted by notmtwain at 11:20 AM on November 10, 2006

I saw one just before sunset a few years ago as I was driving in Alberta. The sky was still bright and blue, but a strange movement caught my eye. I looked up and saw this greeny-orange-red ball of flame pass me overhead and explode then disappear. Very memorable.
posted by maxpower at 11:22 AM on November 10, 2006

A post that eats like a meal - excellent! [golf clap]
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:24 AM on November 10, 2006

One woke me up a couple of years ago, freaking me out a little. The security camera videos of the shadows it cast were pretty cool; I wish they hadn't expired from the tv news website they were originally on.
posted by hades at 11:48 AM on November 10, 2006

Good one, hades. Here's some links to more on that one:
June 3, 2004 Fireball Project

From links on the 1972 daylight fireball: Sonic booms are signs the fireball has come closer than 60km (37 miles) from the ground.
posted by spock at 12:06 PM on November 10, 2006

posted by zoinks at 12:56 PM on November 10, 2006

You should be very careful when observing fireballs. If you get to close you might suffer 1d6 fire damage per level of the caster.
posted by Justinian at 1:03 PM on November 10, 2006

A couple more videos via YouTube.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 1:26 PM on November 10, 2006

Cool, QuestionableSwami. Another YouTube link from yours.
posted by spock at 1:34 PM on November 10, 2006

I saw plenty of Fireballs 1994-1996. $@(#% G-R decks.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:04 PM on November 10, 2006

Wow what timing! Last night at work I saw a brilliant meteor. It wasn't a fireball, but it was brighter than the moon and was so incredibly fast (part of why not a fireball). When I saw it I this post I thought for a second that maybe spock was looking straight up in Indy last night around 12:40 am.

I was lucky enough to find clear skies after driving for two hours during the latest great year of the Leonids in November about four or five years ago. What a spectacular show. We didn't see that many fireballs or really bright ones, but there were just so many regular meteors that the few bright ones were like a crescendo of timpanis in a symphony.
posted by Phantomx at 2:13 PM on November 10, 2006

I witnessed one of these back in the late 90's during a big Perseids meteor shower. It made a noise like a rocket coming in. Unfortunately I wasn't expecting it and I nearly crapped myself as I dropped to the ground fully expecting to hear an explosion.
posted by photoslob at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2006

thanks for these links.
some of them are exactly what I was looking for.
posted by Busithoth at 2:46 PM on November 10, 2006

Camping in Indiana one night we had a meteor shower. We let the fire die down a bit so we could see better, and being out in the country, there were many that we could see, all across the sky. They were typical, streaks of light whizzing and disappearing quickly. The frequency began to decline and some of us went to bed. Three of us were left when there was one spectacular climax -- a flare appeared directly overhead, with a visible tail, and lasted for at least ten seconds before it winked out of existence. I'll never forget it.
posted by dhartung at 3:37 PM on November 10, 2006

I've always enjoyed meteor showers. I once saw one that came in low and fast. It seemed to be multi-colored and started to break up as it got closer to the earth. The thing I remember most clearly was that I actually could hear it.

How cool is that, being close enough to hear a shooting star. If other people hadn't been there and confirmed what I had just seen, I honestly would have doubted my senses.
posted by quin at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2006

Out of a sushi restaurant before the rest of my party, having a smoke on a warm summer night. A bright light on the sunset horizon. Surely Venus! I pointed for nice japanese lady standing next to me. "Shee? VEN-ush!" But it was moving. And getting larger fast. I stepped back hitting my head on a pillar as this giant searing headlight from hell... banked left and turned on its landing lights.

Lady is skittering to her car. I'm yelling after her "No! NOT Venush!"
posted by hal9k at 6:19 PM on November 10, 2006

The March 7, 2003 Park Forest fireball/meteorite (pdf) was recovered and recorded by police car cameras

I remember it like yesterday...
posted by AstroGuy at 8:47 PM on November 10, 2006

hal9k : Surely Venus!

MIB: No other object has been misidentified as a flying saucer more often than the planet Venus... Even the former leader of your United States of America, James Earl Carter, Jr., thought he saw a UFO once, but it's been proven he only saw the planet Venus... Venus was at its peak brilliance last night. You probably thought you saw something up in the sky other than Venus, but I assure you, it was Venus.

-Jesse: The X-files
posted by quin at 10:24 PM on November 10, 2006

I'm not going to be following the links (pressed for time these days) but want to thank you publicly for such a great post, spock. It made me realize how thin the feed has been of late, and I think we can hold your post up as an example of high quality.

It strikes me we should have a helps page that provides examples of stellar posts and encourages folk to consider aiming high.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 PM on November 10, 2006

From the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, Spacecraft Reentry:
The risk that an individual will be hit and injured is estimated to be less than one in one trillion. To put this into context, the risk that an individual in the U.S. will be struck by lightning is about one in 1.4 million.

Reentry risk estimates are supported by the fact that, over the last 40 years, more than 1,400 metric tons of materials are believed to have survived reentry with no reported casualties (of course, it is possible that casualties have occurred somewhere in the world, but have not been reported). The largest object to reenter was the Russian Mir Space Station, which weighed 120,000 kg.
Columbia crosses Venus, Feb. 1, 2003 (seen from Sparks, Nevada.)
posted by cenoxo at 11:26 PM on November 10, 2006

Wonderful post!

When I was a child, about seven years old, my brother (about three) and I were helping bring in groceries from the car. It was a warm night and my parents had already gone in the house. Suddenly a bright light in the sky appeared and grabbed both of our attentions. It hovered for a split second and then in an instant, faster than any plane or helicopter, shot south in a nearly horizontal line across the sky. It left a faint glowing trail and emitted a loud noise that I could only describe as a buzzing.

We both stood frozen in our tracks for a moment. Our young, impressionable minds calculated it could only have been a UFO. My brother, his chubby little arms wrapped tightly around a gallon of milk, turned to me with all the seriousness of an adult and said, "We...did...not...see that."

We never spoke of it again.

Perhaps I need to ask him if he remembers it like I do! Surely it was something like described in the post. It might have been around 1987 and we were on the South Dakota/Minnesota border. It is possible we saw the same thing as Spock described above. Although I do distinctly remember it as being a warm night in December? Possible, but unlikely.

Fascinating nonetheless!
posted by bristolcat at 10:11 AM on November 11, 2006

I saw the 2004 fireball from Portland, OR. My friend and I were on the porch and he pointed and said "look" so I did. I saw the trail and then the actual explosion. It was spectacular.
posted by Sukiari at 12:00 AM on November 12, 2006

I saw the 2004 fireball from Portland, OR. My friend and I were on the porch and he pointed and said "look" so I did. I saw the trail and then the actual explosion. It was spectacular.
posted by Sukiari at 12:00 AM on November 12, 2006

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