Midwestern USA Fireball April 11, 2012

The American Meteor Society has so far received nearly 40 reports of a bright fireball over much of the Midwestern states including Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky . This event occurred near 8:20pm CDT Wednesday evening April 11th. Reports of many different colors have been received, with blue and green being most mentioned.  The average brightness reported by witnesses was near the light produced by a half-illuminated 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 free falling 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 #533 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 →
9 Responses
  1. Tanika Allen says: April 13, 2012 at 5:47 am

    While standing out on the porch this morning around 5:30am April 13, 2012, I was looking at the sky facing the north and noticed how oddly close the stars seemed. Soon after, I saw a bright streak of light shoot across a small area of the sky. My first thought was “Oh my God! Was that a shooting star?” Since I’ve never seen one I instantly took the opportunity to make a wish. I don’t know if the whole “Wishing on a star” thing is true, but I didn’t want my once in a lifetime chance to test this theory to pass me by. It was an awsome sight.

    • Tanika Allen says: April 13, 2012 at 5:53 am

      By the way…Im am in Georgia. I am at work in Evans Georgia at the time of the sighting awaiting my relief. What an amaizing sight. The sky is soo clear, and it seems as if every star in the hemisphere is visible on this beautiful, yet early morning.

  2. I saw what is described as a fireball yesterday April 12th, 2012 in Narberth Pennsylvania. I had never seen anything like it in my life. It looked extremely close and was huge (like a gianst shooting star). I thought it was a plane crashing or something but did not hear a crash. It was a bright ball of light followed by a stream of light like a shooting star. It was also unusual because of the time I saw it; it was just after 8pm at night. It was not that dark yet.

  3. I think you have 2 separate events listed under #533. While most of the reports are of something that happened ~8:20 pm CDT, there’s a cluster of reports (including mine) from ~9:30 pm CDT (10:30 pm EDT). The report I made may have been off by a few minutes, but was definitely not off by over an hour…the fireball I saw occurred just after I got home from work. I didn’t even leave work until 10:00 EDT, ~40 minutes after most of the reports labelled #533. Looking at the individual reports, I’d say that mine and 3 or 4 others are from a second fireball occurring about an hour after the first.

    • Kevin,

      Upon further review I believe you are correct and the table has now been corrected to reflect two separate events.


      Robert Lunsford

  4. Black Feather says: April 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    I reported to this site that around 11:00 pm on the 4/15/2012 from my back yard I saw, a forest green backlit with a lighter shade of green ball flash in the NW part of the sky. It was a little larger than a basketball from my perspective. It didn’t have a tail. No sound. It was like a giant flashlight covered with a green filter moved in a perfect 45 degree angle to the right then turned it off. The event didn’t last long as I was just going to tell my friend to look and it was gone. I live in the NE part of San Antonio in a town called Converse. It was awesome, awesome, awesome….
    Last night, I went out at 8:00 pm till 11:00pm to skywatch. There was a bright light in the area bit higher from where I saw the green light the night before. I’m guessing it was a satellite because it disappeared from the sky around 11:30. I’m going to the library for some books on skywatching and digging around for the lenses to my telescope. Have to save money for a tripod it. I am not even an amateur skywatcher I brought the telescope cheap from a lady moons ago (pun intended ) she was going through hard times – I only know the “dippers” lol.
    I’m going out every night when I can to see what else is going on in the sky. Beats T.V. for the WOW factor. I hope someone else saw it too.

  5. Black Feather says: April 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Oh yeah, this light seemed extremely close too. Didn’t have the distance of a shooting star.

  6. Pingback: Dramatic meteor streaks through evening sky

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