New England Fireball February 28, 2012

The American Meteor Society has so far received approximately 30 reports of a dazzling fireball over much of the New England states and Quebec, Canada. This event occurred near 10:15pm EST Tuesday evening February 28th. Reports of many different colors have been received, with orange and green being most mentioned.  The average brightness reported by witnesses was in excess of the light produced by a full moon.

A fireball is a meteor that is larger than normal. Most meteors are only the size of tiny pebbles. A meteor the size of a softball can produce light equivalent to the full moon for a short instant. The reason for this is the extreme velocity at which these objects strike the atmosphere. Even the slowest meteors are still traveling at 10 miles per SECOND, which is much faster than a speeding bullet. Fireballs occur every day over all parts of the Earth. It is rare though for an individual to see more than one or two per lifetime as they can also occur during the day (when the blinding sun can obscure them), or on a cloudy night, or over the ocean where there is no one to witness them. Observing during one of the major annual meteor showers can increase your chance of seeing another bright meteor.

Fireballs often appear much closer than they really are. The AMS receives countless reports that an object landed just over the hill when in fact it was several hundred miles away and was witnessed over several states or provinces. It is your perspective that makes meteors appear to strike the horizon when in fact they are still high in the atmosphere. This is much like a jetliner seen low in your sky. It appears low to you and close to the ground, but for someone located many miles away in that direction, the jetliner is passing high overhead. Meteors become visible at approximately 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. Friction slows these objects down until they fall below the velocity necessary to produce light. At this point they still lie at least 5 miles high in the sky. They are invisible below this altitude and cannot be seen as they basically freefalling to the ground at 200mph. Very few meteors actually reach the ground as 99.99% completely disintegrate while still 10-20 miles up in the atmosphere.

In the AMS fireball table, refer to event #303 for 2012.

Clear Skies!

Robert Lunsford

About Robert Lunsford

Bob has been interested in the stars as far back as he can recall His first experience with meteors was a biggie, the 1966 Leonid shower. In 1980, a major awaking occurred. He received a sample copy of Meteor News. He was amazed to learn there was a group actually devoted strictly to meteor observing! He joined the group also started to view some of the minor showers list among the pages of Meteor News. Lastly, he was contracted by Springer Publishing in 2007 to write a book on observing meteors. The book is now available and hopefully will be a useful guide to all interested in the enjoyable field of meteor observing. More info about Robert Lunsford →
6 Responses
  1. Brian Wheeler says: March 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    On 02/28/2012 a little before 10:30 P.M. I stepped outside on the back deck and was looking out at my neighbor’s horse pasture when I saw a glowing “ember” streaking down. It was red not unlike a piece of fireworks. When it was about ten feet from the ground it burst into a white flame and seamed to burn up and disappear before hitting the ground. My first thought was that it was from fireworks but there was no noise. Perhaps in the spring I will use a metal detector to look for any traces. I feel blessesd that I was able to see it. BW Concord NH

  2. kristen b. says: March 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    On 2/28/2012 at around 10:15 I was heading north on route 1 in revere when I saw this brilliant green streak across the horizon. It went behind a hill and then exploded into orange. I thought it looked like a fireball, but had never heard of them being green. Just loved it.

  3. I came looking to see if anyone else reported it, but I saw one earlier the evening before. It was just around 8pm ET. I’m certain of the date and time because I was walking to the library with my friend and I have the check ticket for the book I took out at 8:24pm. 2/27/12.

    I was walking south-southwest on School Street, Somerville MA, just before the Highland Ave crossing. The white flash lasted several seconds, and seemed to be going from northeast to southwest.

    When I got home I looked at some local sources and didn’t see anyone else talk about it.

  4. We were snowmobiling Tuesday night around the Norton area of Vermont when a Blue green Light lit the entire wooded area we were in. One of our group almost crashed because it was so bright. By far the coolest thing I have ever seen. It only lasted a couple of seconds but I will never forget it

  5. 20 Sep 2012 approximately 2245hrs. From South to North over Portsmouth, RI. Test book meteor appeared much slower than your average shooting star. Was initially bright white, as it came down turned orange, then as it got further North and lower in the sky turned a greenish-blue.

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