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Late August 2000 Fireball Spate

A Review of Observations Received

The period between 2000 August 19-20 to 30-31 produced reports on eleven separate fireballs from Britain, an unusual number of events during this time, when no major meteor shower maxima were expected. Three of the fireballs were seen from multiple sites, and most were reported only by casual witnesses rather than people carrying out meteor observations. Oddly, this period was bracketed by two near-superbolides seen over Europe as reported on the IMO-News e-mail list (see the Website at: http://www.imo.net), one of magnitude -12/-17 at around 18h44m UT on August 15 from Italy (message from Roberto Labanti posted to IMO-News on 24 August 2000), the other of at least magnitude -13 at 22h52m UT on August 31 over the Czech-German border (message from Jiri Borovicka posted to IMO-News on 1 September 2000), while reports of three other fireballs by SPA Meteor Section correspondents outside the UK were equally curiously timed during this loose fireball "cluster".

There is no indication that these events were from a specific, single source, and none could be definitely identified as belonging to known meteor showers. Details on each event are given below, with estimated surface tracks in the single-witness cases based on typical meteor ablation heights (start ~ 100-90 km, end ~ 80-70 km). Note that such tracks are given as points of interest only, and are not necessarily accurate owing to the lack of observations.

00/08/19-20, ~ 21h30m UT: Three observers at two sites around 20 km apart in Cheshire and Greater Manchester reported a very bright meteor, probably brighter than magnitude -8, as significant ground shadows were cast by its passage. One witness suggested it might have been a Perseid, but the estimated path lengths indicate this was unlikely. The more northerly observer on the southern outskirts of the Greater Manchester area (who was also closest to the object's ground track, as the meteor was reported as passing within ~ 30-40 degrees of the zenith), also heard a distinct "boom" around 2-3 minutes after the fireball, although this cannot be definitely confirmed, and could have been either industrial or aircraft noise, with busy motorways and Manchester International Airport inside a ~ 10 km radius of this location. An estimated NE to SW trajectory was implied, with the object perhaps passing above northern or central Lancashire, ending out over Liverpool Bay in the Irish Sea.

00/08/19-20, ~ 22h31m UT: A single witness on the island of Anglesey off the north-west coast of Wales reported a magnitude -4 (?) meteor, which may have passed high above the north Wales-England border, terminating over the northern part of Cardigan Bay off western Wales. The similarity of this general ~ ENE to ~ WSW surface track to that of the event an hour earlier might indicate the same source, though follow-up enquiries indicated the time difference was genuine.

00/08/19-20, ~ 5h00m UT +/- 30m: A brilliant, probably west to east moving, fireball occurred during this hour, as witnessed by a large part of the audience at an outdoor evening concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Unfortunately, the brightly-lit urban setting prevented a usable sky position being secured for it, but the audience were greatly appreciative of the event!

00/08/20-21, ~ 8h33m UT: A magnitude -4 fireball reported from North Dakota, USA, probably passing on a WNW to ESE track above west-central North Dakota, was seen less than an hour before the start of morning twilight.

00/08/20-21, ~ 21h30m UT: One observer in Leicestershire reported a bright fireball, which perhaps passed roughly SW to NE over the English northern Midlands towards the Yorkshire-Humberside coast between roughly Hull and the North York Moors, though this is far from certain.

00/08/20-21, ~ 22h25m UT: A lone sighting from south Wales of a magnitude -4/-5 (?) event which probably passed on a NE to SW trending trajectory above the English south-west Midlands to Somerset/Dorset, the end possibly as far south as over the English Channel, however.

00/08/24-25, ~ 21h20m-21h30m UT: This very bright fireball was reported by observers at three separate locations, one in Birmingham, one in Suffolk and one in West Yorkshire. The implied ground track was perhaps trending SSW to NNE, and if so, the meteor probably passed over or near the Cotswold Hills of south-western England to Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire some way east of Nottingham. However, there are some discrepancies in the eye-witnesses' statements which make this track more uncertain than usual.

00/08/24-25, ~ 22h50m UT: One sighting of this magnitude -3/-4 (?) yellow fireball was received from the English West Midlands. The object's track was probably in a SW to NE direction from over Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire to South Yorkshire.

00/08/24-25, ~ 0h20m (?) UT: A single report of a brilliant meteor seen low to the north-eastern sky from just south of the Mersey estuary in north-west Cheshire was forwarded to us, but details were extremely sketchy, and even the timing may have been up to an hour later.

00/08/29-30, 23h15m UT: A spectacularly brilliant fireball, estimated by the observer closest to the track (which passed at around 70 degrees elevation) to have reached a magnitude of about -13/-16, was reported from three locations in south Cumbria, Merseyside and Nottinghamshire. The reports, not all of which covered the whole fireball's flight, do not give a single, simple solution for where the object passed over unfortunately, not helped as all three observers were west of the object's flight path. The most likely track direction was roughly SW to NE, carrying the meteor from above an area west of the Cotswold Hills to Humberside/North Yorkshire, possibly ending out over the North Sea. The object's terminal flare produced the greatest brilliancy (even the two more westerly observers recorded it as being of magnitude -6/-8, despite its end being low in the sky for them), and there was some slight fragmentation late in the flight. All three observers made a point of noting that no sounds were heard associated with this fireball, either during or after its appearance.

00/08/30-31, ~ 18h35m UT: An isolated observation of a magnitude -3/-4 fireball passing west to east across the sky was received from an observer on Malta.

00/08/30-31, ~ 21h05m UT: A very short, but brilliant (magnitude ~ -10 ?), fireball was seen by a single witness in south Wiltshire. The apparent trail in the sky suggests the meteor was moving almost directly towards the observer, probably on a SSE to NNW trajectory, and was likely to be out over the English Channel, perhaps passing over the western part of the Isle of Wight.

00/08/30-31, ~ 23h24m UT: A long, green fireball, estimated as brighter than magnitude -5, was spotted by one witness slightly west of central London. The report was very sketchy, but the object may have passed on a NNE to SSW trajectory some way east of London, perhaps over the Thames estuary, to end over the Channel off the East Sussex coast.

00/08/30-31, 23h34m UT: One sighting from Surrey of a point-source magnitude -4 (?) fireball, which was most likely pursuing an almost N to S flight above the Chiltern Hills north-west of London.

Reports of all fireballs (meteors of magnitude -3 or brighter) should be submitted to the SPA Meteor Section as soon as possible after they are made. The Fireball Observing Webpage on this site has information on what to record and where to send your data.

Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director. E-mail: vice_president@imo.net

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