Eastern Kentucky Weather

What Was That Fireball in the Sky Around Perry County?

WYMT's newsroom was flooded with calls on Sunday evening all saying something similar about a light in the sky! I might just know what that was.

On Sunday evening the phones were constantly lighting up... the twitter traffic was overwhelming... and facebook friends had already decided what those lights in the sky were. I heard everything from a plane crash to a UFO and even a possible mine explosion. Yet, no planes were missing, all mines in the area were fine, and no sign of anything landing anywhere in our area! So what was this "Fireball" that had so many buzzing? Most likely a meteor! Am I 100% positive about that? Of course not... LOL... but some of the information that I have looked at these last couple of days certainly points in that direction.

I'd like to thank WYMT's Chief Engineer Phil Hayes for pointing this out to me. He's a real life MacGyver and one of the smartest people I have ever met! So after he shared some information I began digging a little deeper and found all kinds of interesting information.

 

Most of us probably have seen meteors or shooting stars. A meteor is the flash of light that we see in the night sky when a small chunk of interplanetary debris burns up as it passes through our atmosphere. "Meteor" refers to the flash of light caused by the debris, not the debris itself.

The debris is called a meteoroid. A meteoroid is a piece of interplanetary matter that is smaller than a kilometer and frequently only millimeters in size. Most meteoroids that enter the Earth's atmosphere are so small that they vaporize completely and never reach the planet's surface.

If any part of a meteoroid survives the fall through the atmosphere and lands on Earth, it is called a meteorite. Although the vast majority of meteorites are very small, their size can range from about a fraction of a gram (the size of a pebble) to 100 kilograms (220 lbs) or more (the size of a huge, life-destroying boulder).

Some of this stuff is hard to follow, but we'll keep it simple!

First, the really simple stuff! I tried to find a way to embed the video, but this link will have to work.

http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/events/20111211/ev_20111211_070614A_03A.avi

In the video you will notice a VERY brief light streak across the top left hand corner of the movie. This camera captures images of the sky and captured this one the same night as the now infamous "Fireball" here in our area.

This image shows the path that the meteor took as it passed over eastern KY.

(Courtesy: NASA)

It shows clearly that it passed over eastern KY and more specifically Perry County, which is where most of our calls and comments came from!

This next chart indicates the brightness and how long it was bright in our general area.

That set of lines you see crossing over one another falls in the time period of the meteor passing. Indicating a brief bright flash.

The noise that most heard that made them think that there was an explosion was sound of the speeding object blowing through our atmosphere.

I know what you are thinking... if it was a meteor... why no crater or evidence?!?! It likely completely disintegrated before ever striking the ground.

Here's some other info I took from Spaceweather.com and NASA

The 2011 Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of Dec. 13-14, and despite the glare of a nearly-full Moon, it might be a good show.

"Observers with clear skies could see as many as 40 Geminids per hour," predicts Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office.  "Our all-sky network of meteor cameras has captured several early Geminid fireballs.  They were so bright, we could see them despite the moonlight."

The best time to look is between 10 pm local time on Tuesday, Dec. 13, and sunrise on Wednesday, Dec. 14th. Geminids, which spray out of the constellation Gemini, can appear anywhere in the sky. "Dress warmly and look up," says Cooke.  "It's that simple."

The source of the Geminids is near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Most meteor showers come from comets, so having an asteroid as a parent makes the Geminids a bit of an oddball.

Every year in mid-December, Earth runs through a trail of dusty debris that litters the orbit of 3200 Phaethon. Comets vaporizing in hot sunlight naturally produce such debris trails, but rocky asteroids like 3200 Phaethon do not. At least they're not supposed to. The incongruity has baffled researchers since 1983 when 3200 Phaethon was discovered by NASA's IRAS satellite.

One clue: 3200 Phaethon travels unusually close to the sun. The asteroid's eccentric orbit brings it well inside the orbit of Mercury every 1.4 years. The rocky body thus receives a regular blast of solar heating that might somehow boil jets of dust into the Geminid debris stream.

In 2009, NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft saw this process at work.  Coronagraphs onboard the solar observatory watched 3200 Phaethon as it was swinging by the sun.  Sure enough, the asteroid doubled in brightness, probably because it was spewing jets of dust.

"The most likely explanation is that Phaethon ejected dust, perhaps in response to a break-down of surface rocks (through thermal fracture and decomposition cracking of hydrated minerals) in the intense heat of the Sun," wrote UCLA planetary scientists David Jewitt and Jing Li, who analyzed the data.

Jewett and Li's "rock comet" hypothesis is compelling, but they point out a problem: The amount of dust 3200 Phaethon ejected during its 2009 sun-encounter added a mere 0.01% to the mass of the Geminid debris stream--not nearly enough to keep the stream replenished over time. Perhaps the rock comet was more active in the past …?

"We just don't know," says Cooke. "Every new thing we learn about the Geminids seems to deepen the mystery."

Led by Cooke, the Meteoroid Environment Office has just released an app for iPhones and iPads to help citizen scientists count meteors and report their observations to NASA.

Now... All of the evidence I have read makes me think that it was a meteor. Am I an expert? Nope! LOL... but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Could it have been E.T. coming for another visit?

Maybe... if you believe! ;)

C-Ya Bye

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