September 3, 2012 Fireball over South-Central USA

The American Meteor Society has received 36 reports of a bright meteor that occurred near 21:00 (9:00pm  CDT) on Sunday September 3, 2012. A majority of the reports have been received from Texas, but observers located in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois have also reported seeing this object. Brightness estimates of this fireball vary considerably, but the average lies near magnitude-10, which is slightly inferior to the light produced by the full moon.. Every color of the rainbow has been reported with green being the most predominant. Individual reports may be viewed in the 2012 AMS Fireball Table Refer to event #1252 for 2012.

For those not familiar with meteors and fireballs, a fireball is a meteor that is larger than normal. Most meteors are only the size of small 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 also occur during the day, on a cloudy night, or over a remote area where no one sees it. Observing during one of the major annual meteor showers can increase your chance of seeing another one of these bright meteors.

Meteors often appear much closer than they really are. I receive countless reports that the object landed just over the hill when in fact it was several hundred miles away and was witnessed over several states. 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 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.

Robert Lunsford

American Meteor Society

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 →
7 Responses
  1. Jennifer Austin says: September 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Last night was the first time I had seen a meteorite. I live in a remote mountainous area 20 miles east of San Diego, Ca. and because we have no street lights here I was able to view the object light up the sky when it went flying by. I had a wonderful unobstructed view. What a sight! I will be keeping my camera with me from now on.

  2. I believe I saw some yesterday, September 8,2012 from 8:00 p.m. to maybe 10:00 p.m in Puerto Rico. We saw around seven and we were actually scared because they looked so strange and close. They were bright red balls and often came in groups of three, some even came in triangles and they seemed like they were moving slowly. Never seen anything like that before, it was exciting and scary!

    • Alejandra, I don’t believe these were meteors or fireballs. Perhaps the red balls were actually Chinese lanterns or other man-made items?

      Robert Lunsford
      American Meteor Society

  3. Christina Luera says: September 16, 2012 at 2:52 am

    I’ve been searching the internet to see if anyone reported anything close to what I saw in San Diego, California at 5:40am on September 3, 2012. I read the fireball sightings reported, but none matched my description, in that it was a fast vertically moving spherical white light.
    I reported it as a fireball, but after reading other people’s sightings of fireballs, my sighting didn’t exactly match their sightings. It moved as fast as a falling star, which is what I initially thought it was. The falling stars I’ve seen have never scared me; I gasped for a breath in that split second when it appeared and disappeared.  I’m a science person, and it really bothers me not knowing what it was.

    • Christina,

      Meteors and fireballs seen during the morning hours tend to be much faster than those seen during the evening hours, which are a majority of those reported to the AMS. Being unprepared for such a occurrence, I can understand your reaction to such an event. I’m certain you witnessed a fireball, which are produced by objects larger than the normal pebble-size stones we see as meteors at night.

      I hope this helps!

      Robert Lunsford
      American Meteor Society

  4. Christina Luera says: September 28, 2012 at 12:40 am

    I appreciate yout reply to my eyewitness account. It was a super amazing event, that left me unable to sleep a few nights after, simply in awe of what I saw and wondering ‘what the heck’ was that?!!!

  5. I live in east Texas. I saw this meteoroid, or Earth grazing fireball on Sept. 3rd, 2012. I just happened to be outside facing south when I heard a loud boom. We live close to a railroad. The boom was so loud, I thought it might be a railroad accident. Cars accidents don’t sound like this did. The fire ball appeared low in the sky and moved seemingly slow. To put it on a scale, from my perspective it was about the size of a cantaloupe. Not sure what the actual scale would be. It looked like something straight out of a movie. Black with a white arc around the front, red, orange, and yellow flames, with a tail of gray smoke trailing to white. I’ve seen meteorites fall before and that’s quite a show, but I’d never seen anything like this! What’s up with the increase in frequency of these? Thanks for your response.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>