I have received a number of comments on this blog regarding an impressive fireball observed over southern California. The original comments can be found by going to the “Sept 18/19 Meteors“ posting. Additional reports are published on the ScienceDude’s blog. Other than this blog and the ScienceDude’s, I have not been able to find any other reports.
The fireball was observed on Friday night, Sept 19, at approximately 11:10 PDT (6:10 UT). It was described as being yellow-orange and left a long trail in its path. Multiple observers noted that it broke into at least three pieces. One observer in Los Angeles reported hearing a sound similar to an explosion. Interestingly another meteor was observed within a minute or two of the fireball. This second meteor was not as bright and moved perpendicular to the path of the first.
A map showing the location of sightings is posted below.
So what was it? It was either one of two things, a small rock from the Asteroid Belt or a piece of an old satellite or rocket. Based on the reports, it is hard to rule out either of these possibilities.
So here’s what we know.
* The fireball was located just north of Los Angeles and traveled from West to East. Meteors can travel in any direction. At the latitude of LA, many satellites are moving from West to East so the direction of motion makes me wonder if this isn’t a re-entering piece of a satellite. If it was a meteor, it was not associated with any known meteor shower.
* It was a bright yellow-orange and broke up into multiple pieces. Most meteors are blue or green but can be any color. The same is true of re-entering spacecraft.
* The fireball was long lasting and disappeared behind the horizon for some observers. This is consistent with both rocks and satellites.
So based on the evidence, it is hard to say if it was a rock or a satellite.
If you are wondering why my camera didn’t see it. Meteors occur at a height of ~50-80 miles above the ground. As a result, any one particular meteor can only be seen over a distance of a couple of hundred miles. Tucson is just too far away from LA to have seen it.
I’d like to thank everyone who contributed comments. If there are any other reports, please post them in the comment section. And for those who did witness this event, count yourself lucky. A bright disintegrating fireball is one of the most awesome sights in the night sky.
I will continue to look for other reports and hopefully a video as well.