Fireball blazes through Pacific N.W. skies

Scientists seek details about Wednesday morning event

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

Updated: October 30, 2013, 6:46 PM

 
photoAP Photo/Nasha gazeta, www.ng.kz A dashboard camera in Russia caught this image of a magnitude -26 fireball in Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15. Research now shows that meteors about the size of the one in February — and ones even larger and more dangerous — are probably four to five times more likely to hit the planet than scientists believed before the fireball.

Did you see it?

OMSI and the American Meteor Society are looking for details about the fireball that streaked across the sky at about 5:55 a.m. Wednesday.

You can report what you saw on The AMS Website

Remember the adage: The early bird catches the fireball.

At least that’s what early risers in Clark County and much of the Pacific Northwest can claim if they were looking at the sky at 5:55 a.m. Wednesday morning.

That’s when a brilliant, whitish-blue fireball streaked through the sky for about eight seconds, according to reports from across the region.

“I saw this! It was awesome. Couldn’t get to my phone quick enough though,” said Frank Decker, a commenter on The Columbian’s website.

OMSI and the American Meteor Society are hoping that those who saw it will report in with details on the Web at http://www.amsmeteors.org/.

“Those people who saw it, they’ll remember it for the rest of their lives,” said Jim Todd, OMSI’s director of space science education.

Their short duration in the sky makes fireballs hard to photograph, but Todd said he’s hoping a security camera or other device may have captured the event.

Todd didn’t see it himself, but he’s seen other fireballs in the past at OMSI star parties.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said.

The Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency had no reports from the public about the event, a dispatcher said.

But the meteor society’s website had more than 40 reports from Oregon, Washington and other states by noon Wednesday.

One person who reported seeing it in Vancouver said it was the “first (fireball) for me, coolest thing other than northern lights.”

Another person in Longview said it was the “biggest ever seen by me.”

Rose Stratton, who works in The Columbian’s accounting department, saw it when she was out jogging Wednesday morning.

“Just as I was leaving my residence, I was facing north and all of a sudden I saw what I thought was a falling star — but it was too big,” Stratton said. “I was wondering what in the world it was.”

She said it was north toward the horizon and a bit west of Mount St. Helens.

“The speed that it went, it was like five seconds at most,” Stratton said. “It was awesome. It was so cool. It just appeared out of nowhere.”

Fireballs are created by meteors that burn as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere. They heat up because of friction with the surrounding gasses.

There’s a scale for reporting the brightness of fireballs. A magnitude -3 or -4 is as bright as Venus in the evening sky. A magnitude -12 is as bright as the full moon. A magnitude -26 is as bright as the sun, and the same magnitude of the Feb. 15 fireball over Chelyabinsk, Russia.

The magnitude of Wednesday’s fireball appears to be around -8 to -10, Todd said.

In the sky over Clark County, the event would have been to the north near the horizon, Todd said.

Details, including the color, location and if there was a sound, can help scientists determine the speed, composition and other aspects of the meteor.

“One key would have been if there were a sonic boom reported, that might indicate some parts of the meteor survived,” Todd said. “Meteors also come in much hotter than man-made space debris (such as satellite parts).”

The blue-white color of Wednesday’s meteor suggests it was traveling very fast and very hot, and that the composition is probably nickel iron or some other metal, which is typical of an asteroid. An orange or yellow color would indicate it was moving more slowly.

“The timing of fireballs is sort of random, but this certainly won’t be the last one,” Todd said. “They happen all the time.”