Widely seen fireball : Mar 3 21:45UT (approx)

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Tony Markham
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Widely seen fireball : Mar 3 21:45UT (approx)

Post by Tony Markham »

There have been many reports from Scotland and the north and midlands of England of a bright fireball at around 21:45 on Saturday evening.

If you saw the fireball, please report what you saw to the SPA meteor section using this form : http://www.popastro.com/meteor/fireball ... /index.php
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Post by astro_dt »

Just posting a report now!

I was trying to capture comet Garradd with a DSLR and saw the fireball approach from the North.

At first I thought it was an aircraft, then decided there were no navigation lights so must be a helipcopter, no noise so decided it was a satellite, but the orange colour was unusual so turned the camera on it. Was going to look at Heavens Above this morning and then saw all the reports on BBC, Twitter, SPA.......

Caught the last 10 secs so I have accurate timing and coordinates of the finish
ETX125 WO Z66SD Meade DSI Canon DSLR
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The Bat
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Post by The Bat »

Eight of us were at our club observatory last night and not one of us managed to see this! How disappointing!! :roll:

Was gutted when I saw the news reports coming in this morning!

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Re: Widely seen fireball : Mar 3 21:45UT (approx)

Post by MoThomson »

Tony Markham wrote:There have been many reports from Scotland and the north and midlands of England of a bright fireball at around 21:45 on Saturday evening.

If you saw the fireball, please report what you saw to the SPA meteor section using this form : http://www.popastro.com/meteor/fireball ... /index.php
I didn't see it, but I was taking some timelapse photos in Edinburgh from 21:10 to 22:53, to try and get some photo's of the night sky with Mars in it.
I only got one frame with the meteor in it @ 21:40.
I think Mars is the bright dot near to the meteor streak.

The meteor streak was @ 21:40 and the photo is a 15 second exposure @ F4.0, looking south.
My camera is 5 minutes ahead of time, so the EXIF info incorrecly shows 21:45

http://www.mothomson.com/meteor_over_ed ... 3_2012.jpg

And here are some of the timelapse photos in an 8 second clip ( I paused it briefly on the frame with the meteor)

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Post by HippyChippy »

@ astro-gt
Caught the last 10 secs...
Blimey! :shock:
Tony Markham
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Post by Tony Markham »

This video, from Whitley Bay, which appears to show part of the fireball's path, was posted on youtube last night

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np8U68Ki ... AUvYrU7v-d
Alastair McBeath
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Post by Alastair McBeath »

As you might expect, it's been rather a chaotic day at the Meteor Section, with reports arriving at anything up to 17 an hour by e-mail since 22:00 last night (March 3)!

By 22:00 tonight (March 4), 43 reports on this meteor had been received from all across Scotland and England, including news of at least three images/videos. This is only a very preliminary review of some of my early findings from these sightings. So far, time has not allowed an analysis of the object's more probable trajectory, although a general north to south path seems likely from first impressions.

Most of the observations as yet have come from Scotland and northern England (71%), and there seems a possibility that the meteor was at its brightest early in its flight near this part of the UK, fading somewhat later, as in general, the observers further north saw the meteor as brighter (perhaps around magnitudes -7 to -10) compared to observers in the southern half of England (-3 to -5). The fade, if real, seems to have been fairly gentle (there is the possibility skies were more transparent further north, which could also have affected the perceived brightness).

Observers further north also seem in general to have seen more of the flight, as estimates for the visible duration here tended to be longer than those further south. In all cases though, the meteor appeared to be unusually persistent, lasting probably between 15 to 30 seconds judging by the better estimates for the full flight so far.

There was quite a degree of scatter in the estimated timings for when the fireball appeared (possibly affected by how long the object remained in-view as well), but the average of 38 estimates was within half a minute of 21:42 UT on March 3-4.

Numerous different colours were reported, sometimes in multiples, with some witnesses mentioning different hues were spotted in the head and the tail. However, and excluding the often-default "white", there was a general pattern preferring colours for the main fireball in the red-orange-yellow range than anything else. Even including white, 67% favoured this range.

Naturally, these first findings are subject to revision as more data arrives, and as ever, all further reports would be most welcome!

The three key elements to mention are:

1) Exactly where you were (give the name of the nearest town or large village and county in Britain);

2) The date and timing of the event; and

3) Where the fireball started and ended in the sky, as accurately as possible, or where the first and last points you could see of the trail were if you didn't see the whole flight.

More advice on what to report and where to from any fireball observations (a fireball is any meteor of magnitude -3 or brighter) made from the UK and nearby is available on a separate Observing Forum topic, at:

http://www.popastro.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=15296 .

If you've already submitted a sighting, many thanks! If you provided an active e-mail address, I will be in touch as soon as possible, but with such a large number of reports on top of the Section's usual correspondence-load, aside from further analysis of this fireball, there may be a delay. Your data is much appreciated despite that, however!

Alastair McBeath,
Meteor Director, Society for Popular Astronomy.
E-mail: <meteor@popastro.com> (messages under 150 kB in size only, please)
Alastair McBeath
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Post by Alastair McBeath »

I've now completed a first analysis for this fireball's probable trajectory, and can update the notes I posted here last night, based on the initial 43 observations mentioned then. The tally of sightings has increased substantially since, but I've not had time to add those into the analysis as yet.

First-off, nobody seems to have seen or imaged the entire trail, as it appears to have been exceptionally long.

The start may have been high above the sea somewhere between the Faeroe, Shetland and Orkney Islands. However, a visible start height had to be assumed at between 140-90 km to determine this rough area, as only one witness's report for the beginning was available, that of an experienced astronomical observer near the Moray Firth coast. If correct, this would have put the start likely within 70 km or so of 3.9° W, 60.5° N.

The meteor then appeared to have followed a generally NNW to SSE trending path from there. Its projected surface track probably cut across Orkney Mainland as its first landfall, before possibly grazing Duncansby Head, then over the Moray Firth towards the "Aberdeen Angle" of northern Scotland. Its land track there was likely from about Banff to Inverbervie.

Flitting across the North Sea off the Firth of Forth after that, the start of its final landfall was probably near Lindisfarne on the north Northumberland coast. As suggested by the Whitley Bay video, it probably passed almost overhead for several cities in northeast England, including Newcastle, Gateshead and Durham, then tracked south roughly parallel to the Pennines, albeit some way to their east, down much of the length of England.

Its end was much better-observed than its start, and was probably within 25 km of a point near Bozeat, Northamptonshire, close to the Northants-Beds-Bucks border, around 0°45.3' W, 52°13.3' N. The average value best-estimated for its final visible height was 61.6 ± 8.5 km.

Assuming this path was roughly correct, the fireball's intra-atmospheric trajectory would have been between 1060 and 900 km long, descending at between 5° to 2° from the horizontal, so literally skimming along the meteor layer in the upper atmosphere.

Given that nobody saw the whole trail after all, I have attempted to correct for the approximate parts of this path not seen by the witnesses who estimated the flight-time, and although this is less certain, it seems plausible the duration was around 30-45 seconds for the entire visible flight. If so, this would compute to an atmospheric velocity range, not allowing for deceleration, of order 27 ± 5 km/sec, thus meteorically slow to slow-medium in speed. (Meteor atmospheric-entry velocities range from circa 11 to 72 km/sec.)

Sadly, such a grazing path would make the chance for any meteorites surviving to reach the surface extremely small, and also make it impossible to usefully identify anything other than a huge potential surface area into which they might have dropped anyway.

As before, please remember that this is just a preliminary analysis, so is subject to revision later as fresh results come through. It also has to attempt to compromise between what can be conflicting information provided by different witnesses. However, there is a logical consistency in the findings so far, despite the very unusual long-lived nature of this event.

And for those of you who, like me, were indoors at the critical instant, I note that the estimated trajectory would likely have carried it virtually overhead for my site in NE England...

Alastair McBeath,
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Post by 12dstring »

Many thanks for the details Alastair, you must be pretty busy!

I've been fascinated watching the videos of this, being at such a shallow angle and being visible for so long. I sadly didn't see it myself, I think I must have been driving to the observatory at the time.

Your calculation for the final visible point makes me a little more confident we captured part of it in this image (vertical streak in the top right):
http://star.herts.ac.uk/allsky/imageget ... 5990.40383

Start azimuth: 339°
Start altitude: 17°

End azimuth: 328°
End altitude: 30.5°

The azimuth of Bozeat from here is 320°, and the timing seems right. It's either that or a plane...

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Post by Alastair McBeath »

Dave: Busy? You could say that! Some kind soul (I think...) pointed me in the direction of the comments on the BBC News website relating to this fireball yesterday - all 384 of them! Thankfully, many weren't reports of the meteor, and most had little new data to add, but it was interesting to find how far afield the event had been spotted, and also to see what "interpretations" (mostly of a political nature) had been put on the "omen"! It also seems to have been a real "event" on Twitter, and Assistant Meteor Director Tony Markham and I have discussed the possibility of adding those reports into the mix, again just to get a better idea of the geographic spread of the lucky witnesses.

As for your Bayfordbury image, I used it in determining the end point, and it did seem to fit pretty well with the other, mostly visual estimates. Or more correctly, they fitted pretty well with it - images trump visual estimates, after all! The longevity seemed to have helped people in making their sky-position estimates for once.

I was intrigued by the seemingly sharp beginning to your imaged trail, and suspected the shot must have begun partway through the object's flight. If the time-stamp was accurate for the image's start, that could give us a better idea of the exact timing of the event, perhaps (assuming my estimate for the visible duration was roughly right).

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Post by stella »

Alastair will be relieved to know that we almost had a very similar
re-entry last night. A large Chinese rocket launched on January 9
would have passed south-north across U.K. at 22:27 U.T. last night
March 7, whilst in process of decaying. However it re-entered just
13 minutes earlier as it crossed the Equator on its way to the U.K. Phew.
Alastair McBeath
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Post by Alastair McBeath »

Stella: Yes, thanks for that. It nicely clears up a couple of queries from people asking if the March 3 fireball was this re-entry event.

Meanwhile reports on the March 3-4 meteor now look to be approaching the 400 mark...

Alastair McBeath,
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Post by Alastair McBeath »

The final analysis of this fireball has taken rather longer than I'd anticipated, largely because of the substantial number of reports received on it, including many comments extracted from the BBC News webpage at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-17248959 ,

161 fully detailed observations from the American Meteor Society - see their website at:

http://www.amsmeteors.org/fireball2/pub ... nd+Reports

and the summary page:

http://www.amsmeteors.org/2012/03/fireb ... ch-3-2012/ ,

as well as notes from Twitter. I'm especially grateful to Bob Lunsford and Mike Hankey of the AMS for alerting me to the huge number of reports they had been sent, and for making those sightings freely available to me, and to Assistant SPA Meteor Director Tony Markham for rounding-up the Twitter details.

Excluding duplicates, a total of 376 reports, including 15 videos or images of part of the trail, were probably of this event, stretching from Wick and the island of Lewis in northern Scotland to Somerset, Hampshire and Essex in southern England, with several sightings from northeast Wales. Of the 353 observers whose locations could be identified, 116 were in Scotland, 168 in northern England (north of roughly 53° N latitude, somewhat variable to allow for county boundaries), 9 in Wales, and 60 in southern England.

It has been difficult to confirm some of the reports due to differences in the estimated timings, and where in the sky the object was claimed to have been seen. Outlying suggestions for the time of what was plausibly this fireball ranged from 21:00 to 22:30 UT, for instance! However, 80% fell within ten minutes of 21:41:30 UT on March 3, while the fireball most probably happened between 21:41 and 21:42 UT. The longevity of its flight, likely around 45 ± 15 seconds, meant the timing could not be more precisely-determined. A further complication has been that there were at least four, and possibly five, separate fireballs spotted from UK locations overnight on March 3-4. These are discussed elsewhere on the Observing Forum:

http://www.popastro.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=16939 .

The preliminary estimate for the meteor's trajectory given earlier has scarcely changed at all. The most plausible start area remains vaguely-defined as between the Faeroe, Shetland and Orkney Islands, perhaps within 100 km of 3.9° W, 60.5° N, assuming a start height range between 140-90 km, but it may have been some way west or north of this zone. The end area was more closely-confined to within 25 km of 0°45.3' W, 52°13.3' N, with a best-estimated average for its final visible height of 61.6 ± 8.5 km. As noted before, the centre of this zone on the ground was close to Bozeat, Northants, near the Northants-Beds-Bucks border. Using this relatively fixed end-point with the data from those observers who suggested the meteor had passed overhead, or very nearly so (and excluding a few outliers), would imply the meteor's direction of travel across the British Isles was towards azimuths 165° to 170°, so moving NNW to SSE. There was a small majority in favour of the ~170° line, which would have been above the surface track described previously - so, Orkney Mainland - Duncansby Head - Moray Firth - Banff - Inverbervie - North Sea off the Firth of Forth - near Lindisfarne, then passing overhead for Newcastle, Gateshead and Durham, as well as almost so for York, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester.

Other details derived from this estimated flight-path were chiefly unchanged too, such as its intra-atmospheric trajectory being from 1060 to 900 km long, descending at between 5° to 2° from the horizontal. The larger range for its potential visible flight time, 30-60 seconds, did alter the possible atmospheric velocity range though, which would then have been circa 25 ± 10 km/sec, with no allowance for atmospheric deceleration.

An unusually large range of estimated brightnesses were suggested from magnitude -1 to brighter than the Sun (magnitude -27), although as no one reported any serious eye problems after viewing the meteor, the more extreme brightness estimates seemed more likely a result of the surprise at seeing such an amazing meteor, rather than its actual brilliance. The more reliable estimates averaged magnitude -12 or so, with the likely brightest parts of the trail probably falling in the range from magnitude -9 to -15, roughly of half to full Moon level. The object seemed to have been about at its brightest during its passage between approximately Aberdeenshire to North Yorkshire, and judging by the descriptions (albeit with an unavoidable degree of subjectivity, as not everyone agreed what happened) it may have begun breaking up or shedding small sparkling fragments from about the time it crossed the Northumberland coast onwards, or perhaps a little before then. The degree of fragmentation overall seemed relatively slight and fairly gentle however, with people often reporting a train or tail with and/or after the meteor. There was also a degree of confusion for some people about the difference between the persistent train left after the meteor had gone, and the tail seen behind the head of the meteor while still in-flight, making determining just what took place quite difficult. Some of the videos certainly would support an amount of minor fragmentation during the later flight.

Sounds potentially associated with the fireball were reported from seventeen places, twelve of those simultaneous with the meteor's flight or almost so, five some time afterwards. The simultaneous sounds were mostly of the kind expected from previous events of this kind, described here as often quite faint, but distinct rustling, hissing, sizzling, crackling or popping. Two witnesses, one each in Derby and Wolverhampton had their attention drawn to the fireball by hearing the sound, which has also occurred before. One report from Dumfries & Galloway (the most distant place from the projected surface track to have reported a sound associated with the meteor) suggested a boom was heard a couple of seconds after the meteor vanished, much too soon for ordinary acoustic waves to have arrived at that site, but which might still have been linked to the event, although a more earthly explanation could not be ruled-out. Another witness in Manchester mentioned sounds like the whirring and banging from a helicopter were noted during the meteor's appearance. Again, a man-made cause nearby could not be excluded. Four reports of simultaneous sounds were from Northumberland and the Borders almost directly beneath the probable line-of-flight, which provided further support for such a trajectory, with eight of the twelve within 70 km of that projected ground line.

Of the five reports of sounds after the meteor ended, two were of sonic booms from unidentified locations (one possibly in either Derbyshire or Staffordshire), and another was of a similar boom from Worksop in Notts between 60-120 seconds after the meteor vanished, another place almost directly beneath the flight-path. The remaining two reports from Glasgow, of a double shotgun-like detonation an unknown time after the meteor disappeared, and Preston in Lancs, of a rumbling noise barely audible above the local traffic about ten minutes after the meteor, seemed more likely to have had a local cause. Whether any of these delayed noises were genuinely linked to the meteor was uncertain, since assuming the fireball's estimated trajectory was correct, it would likely have been too high to have generated such noises audibly at the surface.

As for the colours seen in the meteor, various contrasting shades were mentioned, with some people differentiating between hues noticed in the head and tail at times. Of those who reported colours in the head, most preferred red, orange or yellow (65.5%) or white (24%) with the remaining 10.5% made up of green, blue or violet.

Many thanks once more to all the contributing observers in sharing their good fortune at spotting such a marvellous, unusually persistent fireball. Man-made re-entry fireballs, which may last up to a few minutes, can be quite similar, and are relatively commoner. However, such naturally-occurring meteors skimming the meteor layer and lasting for tens of seconds are extremely rare, perhaps no more than a handful per century visible for any given place on Earth. Those who saw this one can thus count themselves particularly lucky!

Alastair McBeath,
Meteor Director, Society for Popular Astronomy.
E-mail: <meteor@popastro.com> (messages under 150 kB in size only, please)
David Webb
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Post by David Webb »

I just see these reports on here, but I am a radio ham, and reports of bright balls of fire have been coming to me this year on radio from all over Earth, they say they are white, Orange, happen at the same time mostly no matter where you live.
I was in Norwich the other day, the sun was shining, sky was blue, and right ahead of us we all see a bright white big ball in the North sky, it stayed about 15 seconds then just went out, it did not seem to drop to the ground.
See my report on this forum just last week, I was looking at a star and a white ball flew by at 11 pm, it is very odd.
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Post by David Frydman »

Dear David,
The daytime event could be a fireball.
It could also be the reflection from an aircraft catching the Sun at the right angle. If the event was in the north and the Sun in the south this is quite possible.
I see many of these these daily but maybe not usually as bright as you report.

I see well over a thousand of these aircraft glints every year.

I also see many aircraft headlamps as bright as magnitude minus 10.
Worldwide there are probably fireballs every few minutes or seconds.
There are also perhaps 100,000 aircraft in the sky at any one time all capable of causing glints.
In addition there are airships with large surface areas capable of very bright reflections.

I don't find these events strange, they are normal and expected.

Regards, David
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