On the evening of November 8, people in 12 states and in Canada were treated to an uncommon site: A fireball meteor flew across the night’s sky. The event has now been reported over 500 times. (1)
The East Coast Fireball Meteor
If you were outside around 7:22 pm EST on Sunday, I hope you were looking up. The American Meteor Society (AMS) says that what was most likely a fireball meteor flashed across the sky, traveling east to west, before trailing off. (1)
The meteor was reported by people in 12 states and in Canada, including (1, 2):
- New York
- New Jersey
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
- Quebec, Canada
The visibility ended over Poughkeepsie, New York. (2)
Many videos have been shared showing this magnificent event.
What is a Fireball Meteor?
According to the AMS, a fireball meteor is a term for a very bright meteor. This meteor is typically brighter than magnitude -4, about the same magnitude as the planet Venus when seen either in the morning or at night. (3)
A fireball meteor is different from a bolide. A bolide is a fireball meteor that explodes in a bright flash at its end. Often you can see its fragmentation as it explodes and then vanishes. (3)
Are These Meteors Rare?
Though fascinating, a fireball meteor sighting isn’t as rare as you might think. Several thousand fireball-magnitude meteors enter the earth’s atmosphere every day. We don’t see most of them because they appear over oceans or uninhabited places, or they appear during the daytime so they aren’t overly visible. (4)
Moreover, the brighter the fireball, the rarer it is. You can see them in the daylight sometimes, but they have to be at least a magnitude of -6 in a portion of the sky away from the sun. The closer to the sun they appear, the brighter they need to be. (4)
Can They Be Different Colors?
The simple answer is yes, they can. Reported fireball meteor colors include (4):
- Bright Blue
Observers have reported several variations of those colors. Different chemicals produce different colors when they are vaporized, making the composition of the meteor has the most impact on the color. (4)
Some examples are (4):
- Sodium produces bright yellow
- Nickel produces green
- Magnesium produces white-blue
The speed that the fireball meteor is moving also impacts its observed color. The higher the kinetic energy the more intense the colors will be. Typically slower meteors are red or orange and faster ones are bluer. For all of these reasons, fireball meteors tend to be even more complex. (4)
Can A Fireball Meteor Fall to Earth?
According to the AMS, in order for a meteor to actually fall to earth, it needs to be greater than a magnitude of -8 to -10. (4) Other requirements for this are (4):
- The parent asteroid must be of asteroidal origin and made of materials sturdy enough to survive the trip through the Earth’s atmosphere.
- It can’t be too fast – meteoroids must enter the atmosphere slowly to have a chance at reaching Earth before burning up.
Meteor temperatures upon impact aren’t well known. However scientists do know that they are not much more than the temperature of the air by the time they reach the ground. About 10 to 50 meteorite-dropping events happen on the Earth every day, however, the majority of these occur over the ocean or uninhabited land so we never see them. (4)
What To Do If You See One
Whether you are sure or not if what you saw was a fireball meteor, the AMS asks that you report it to them. Try to remember as many details as you can, including things like (3):
- Length across the sky
- How long it lasted for
- Background star constellations
- Compass direction
- Angular elevation above the horizon
Sunday night’s fireball meteor was certainly something to behold, and it won’t be the last. The next time you are walking around at night time under a clear sky, don’t forget to look up – you never know what you might see.
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