5
Mar
2012

Fireball Over the United Kingdom March 3, 2012

The American Meteor Society has so far received approximately 125 reports of a dazzling fireball over much of the United Kingdom. This event occurred near 21:40  GMT (9:40pm) on Saturday evening March 3rd. Reports of many different colors of this object have been received, with orange being most mentioned.  The average brightness reported by witnesses was in excess of the light produced by a full moon. This fireball lasted an extraordinary long time, up to 20 seconds as reported by some observers. Videos confirm a duration of at least 15 seconds. Links to these videos have been posted to meteorobs by well known meteor publicist Daniel Fischer at:

http://skyweek.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/brillianter-bolide-betorte-beeindruckte-briten/

Thanks to Daniel for providing this link!

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 #322 for 2012.

Clear Skies!

Robert Lunsford

UPDATE 3/5/2012

Reports for the March 3rd UK fireball continue to come into the AMS.

Below is a map of the witness reports for this event. Click the map for an interactive Google Map for this event. You can click the witness icons on the map to read the reports. Green lines represent the first point of the meteor, while yellow lines represent the last point of the meteor. Red icons mean, movement was seen left to right, while green icons represent reported movement of right to left.

UK Fireball - March 3rd, 2012

You can view the map of witness reports by observer’s experience level.

Level 2 Witness Reports

Level 3 Witness Reports

Level 4 Witness Reports

Numerous witness reports indicated the presence of fragmentation and a sonic booms, both positive signs for meteorite dropping fireballs. Based on a review of the witness reports, if fragments from the fireball survived, they may have made landfall north west of London. Since several videos were recorded, so it should be possible to determine a 3D trajectory for this meteor.

If you witnessed this fireball event, please fill out an official fireball report.

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 →
9 Responses
  1. BRIAN GRAY says: March 5, 2012 at 9:35 am

    I saw the meteor at 9.41pm on Saturday the 3rd March passing to the south at a very fast speed. It appeared bright white and also orange with what appeared to be sparks coming off it. I live in Kidsgrove,Stoke on Trent. The episode lasted a good 10 to 15 seconds and was clearly visible the entire time.


  2. Craig Bourne says: March 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I saw the meteor at 9.41pm on Saturday March 3rd and I agree with Brian Gray about it passing to the south. I live in Burslem Stoke on Trent. I watched it go the entire distance of the sky which was quite amazing. Four of my family members also saw it at my house.


  3. Barrow Alaska says: March 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Quite a few people seen a light blue fireball with an orange sparkling tail March 3, 2012 here in Barrow, Alaska around 9:43pm. There were also reports coming from witnesses 60 miles south of Barrow in a tiny village of Atqasuk, also from another village west of Barrow known as Wainwright. This thing was HUGE!


  4. Jamie Shepherd says: March 6, 2012 at 7:55 am

    The most useful photo so far is the Mike Ridley shot of the Whitley Bay rainbow lazer display with fireball. The head of Hydra can be made out, also Mars and Regulus. The near vertical trail gives a direction of travel towards bearing approx. 169 degrees where the trail intersects the horizon (assumed to be the “radiant” of the lazers which are near sea level and parallel) This puts the track overhead on a line from Newcastle to Worthing, where the track crosses the south coast of England into the channel. If anything fell on Blightey it will be along that line, nearer the Worthing end by the looks. The very shallow entry angle and long duration leaves large uncertainty in where fragments might have fallen, even if other photos surface which better show the end point from closer in.

    The observer plots on the map seem largely inconsistent with the statement “Red icons mean, movement was seen left to right, while green icons represent reported movement of right to left.” ?

    Quite a heavily populated area, and the low velocity and low fragmentation make this a probable meteorite fall, as long as it didn’t either skip off into space or go in the drink.

    Happy hunting!


  5. Our Astronomy Group were out that evening near Banbury, in the Midlands of England.
    We saw the fireball ‘ ‘go out’ ‘ east of us at an elevation of 30 degrees.


  6. Alastair McBeath says: March 10, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Thanks to help in providing free access to the sightings reported directly to the AMS by Bob Lunsford and Mike Hankey, the number of observations I’ve received/collected from the UK on this meteor is now approaching the 400-mark (there may be some duplicates and other fireballs in that however, as I’m only just past sighting 200 in making detailed checks of who saw what and when!).

    I’d managed to prepare a preliminary analysis earlier this week, based on the first 43 observations to arrive, including the Whitley Bay video Jamie noted, and an all-sky image of the end of the object’s flight from the University of Hertfordshire’s Bayfordbury camera (thanks to Herts Uni analyst David Campbell for providing data from the image swiftly too). You can find that on the SPA’s Observing Forum topic at:

    http://www.popastro.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=16810 .

    I’m intending to update that hopefully next week, but that depends on whether I finish checking through all the reports by then, of course!

    My best-estimate at present is that the meteor likely had a grazing trajectory, perhaps only a few degrees off the horizontal, and a path about 1000 km long (600+ miles) from somewhere between the Orkney, Shetland and Faeroe Islands to a point likely within 25 km (15 miles) of 0°45′ W, 52°13′ N over southern England. The end height was likely around 60 km (40 miles).

    Overall, meteorites seem very unlikely to have resulted from such an event, and the potential fall zone would be enormous anyway – as well as a long way on from the probable end-point.

    Particular thanks go to all the lucky witnesses who provided data so soon after the event. Those who contacted me directly will receive a personal reply – albeit that may be some weeks in coming yet! I hope the preliminary analyses both on the AMS site here, and my own efforts in the UK, have helped demonstrate how valued such observations are, no matter what the expertise of the witness, and to provide reassurance for those who found the experience both wonderful and frightening that a) you were not alone, and b) that there was never any real danger to you.

    Alastair McBeath,
    Meteor Director, Society for Popular Astronomy.


  7. Roy Potter says: March 10, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I seem to have seen the same thing but a week later ? i live in Hastings, east sussex, England. at about midnight (friday into saturday) i was driving home heading south, and like something out of a film happened above, it seemed low almost that i would find it at the bottom of my garden half mile further down the road and by the sea (obvoiusly didnt) had a tail about 3 inches wide an about 8 inches long to the head (front) only lasted a few seconds and was bright white, was amazing to see, was there any other reports and or do you know what it was etc. i was in the merchant navy for 10 years and have seen hallies comet aswell but this was extrene lol, not that halies comet wasnt either. Kind Regards.


  8. Alastair McBeath says: March 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Roy: A little off-topic here, obviously, but if you can send me more details on your sighting from March 9-10, I’d welcome seeing them, I’ve had a report from Essex already of what was probably the same meteor – see:

    http://www.popastro.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=16837

    on the SPA’s Observing Forum.

    Alastair McBeath,
    Meteor Director, Society for Popular Astronomy.


  9. Alastair McBeath says: April 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

    The final analysis of the “main” March 3-4 UK fireball has taken rather longer than I’d anticipated, largely because I collected 376 separate reports of it in the following days, from across Scotland, England and northeastern Wales.

    However, I’ve today posted details from the final analysis of this meteor on the SPA’s Observing Forum, at:

    http://www.popastro.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=16810 .

    The main headlines were that the event probably lasted between 30-60 seconds, so was an exceptionally rare natural meteoric event. Typically only man-made re-entry events last this long or longer. Such naturally-occurring very long-lived meteors happen-by perhaps only a few times per century for any given place, so this was a most fortunate sighting for all the lucky witnesses.

    The object was barely skimming the meteor layer in the upper atmosphere as it passed from somewhere out high above the North Atlantic, perhaps around 140-90 km altitude possibly between or northwest of the Faeroe, Shetland and Orkney Islands, to an end probably within 25 km of a point around 61.6 ± 8.5 km altitude above Bozeat, Northamptonshire, in southeast England.

    For more information, see the Observing Forum topic, where there are also links to many of the sightings, images and videos of the event, as well as to notes on four or perhaps five other fireball-class meteors which were spotted from the British Isles that night.

    Many thanks again to everyone who contributed data. Even though I didn’t see the event, it’s been one of the most exciting events I’ve dealt with from the past almost thirty years of UK meteor analyses!

    Alastair McBeath,
    Meteor Director, Society for Popular Astronomy.


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