Home > General Astronomy, Stargazing > The Fireball of 21 September 2012

The Fireball of 21 September 2012

Did you see it? Plenty of UK-based stargazers did; a huge, bright, long-lasting fireball streaked through the sky last night, 21 September, at 2255BST (2155UT).

The fireball was caught on meteorlog’s meteor cam

I saw it as I was driving home from a stargazing trip to Loch Tay in the Highlands of Scotland. The first glimpse I caught was behind some trees, and I clearly saw the very bright (estimated magnitude -5), yellow fragments of a space rock that was disintegrating as it burned up in our atmosphere. It was traveling westwards from the SW, and look to be about 40° above the horizon. I lost sight of it as I drove, but once I’d turned a bend in the road, a full ten seconds later, I caught the last few fragments burning it.

Straight away I pulled over and tweeted to see if anyone else had seen in, and very soon a flood of observations came in. The team at the Kielder Observatory actually had a group of people up observing, who all saw it.

Mike Alexander, who runs the Galloway Astronomy Centre, had a group of guests out stargazing then too, and they also saw it, but even better they heard it!

By the time I got home, around 0030BST this morning, only an hour and a half after it happened, there were reports of it on BBC Radio 4, with people all over the northern UK and Ireland reporting the same thing, a disintegrating fireball burning through the night sky for around 20 or 30 seconds.

By the time I woke up this morning it had made it onto BBC News.

So what was it?

A few people suggested that it might have been man-made space debris, an old satellite burning up as it de-orbits, but this isn’t the case, for a couple of reasons. First it was traveling east to west, and satellites don’t orbit in that direction. Secondly, Mike (above) reported hearing a sonic boom approx 150 seconds after it faded. Both of these observations point to the fact that it was a large chunk of space rock, a meteor. When meteors are as bright as this one we call them fireballs.

  1. James Hinchcliffe
    September 22, 2012 at 14:00

    Great blog, I was one of the visitors to Kielder Observatory. Initially, we thought it was a plane but as soon as Gary saw it, he informed us it was a Meteor. Fantastic to watch, looked so big. Lasted for circa 30 seconds and watched it break up, didn’t hear a noise though. Fantastic!

  2. Christina
    September 22, 2012 at 16:33

    i seen a orange “fireball” in southern new york state approx. 9pm last night???

  3. Maya
    September 24, 2012 at 11:33

    We saw it as we were leaving the house on our last dog walk. It had a white central core with green sparks coming off. A piece broke off which faded to red as it burned out. It was, as you say, heading east to west, and disappeared over the houses opposite.

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