27
Feb
2013

Fragmenting Fireball Over Texas and Louisiana February 27, 2013

Reentry Track for CZ-4B Rocket Body

Update 2/27/13 14:20 EST – The chart above, provided by Rob Matson, displays the reentry track for the Chinese rocket body CZ-4B. This rocket was launched on May 10, 2012, from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China. There is no doubt that the display seen in the sky over Texas and Louisiana this morning was caused by the reentry and subsequent disintegration of this spent rocket. Many thanks to Rob Matson for taking the time to calculate this orbit and making it available for us to share.

Update 2/27/13 12:56 EST – It looks like the fireball seen from Texas and Louisiana may be the re-entry of a Chinese rocket body launched in 2012. http://www.aerospace.org/cords/reentry-predictions/upcoming-reentries/2012-021c/

The American Meteor Society has received 30 reports of a bright meteor that occurred near 3:15am CST on Wednesday morning February 27, 2013 over the states of Texas and Louisiana . What is unusual about this sighting is that this fireball fragmented in mid-flight creating a “cluster” of fireballs that continued across the sky. Brightness estimates of this fireball vary considerably, but the average lies near magnitude -15, which slightly exceeds the light produced by the full moon. Every color of the rainbow has been reported with orange and yellow being most mentioned. Individual reports may be viewed in the 2013 AMS Fireball Table Refer to event #501 for 2013.

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. There is often a common misconception that the object appeared nearby when in fact the actual flight path 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. If the meteor survives down an altitude of 5 miles, friction will have slowed the velocity below that necessary to produce light. Therefore 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 →
3 Responses
  1. The recent update by Mr. Matson indicates what was seen this morning at approximately 3:09 a.m. CST was in fact a Chinese rocket body burning up on reentry. The only issue I have is the trajectory indicated by Mr. Matson is inconsistant with the direction of the anomaly I witnessed this morning. What I saw traversed from the southwest to the northeast, Mr. Matson’s diagram shows the trajectory coming from the south southeast and heading north northwest. However, the rate of travel of the anomaly was consistant with space junk reentering earth’s atmosphere thus adding to my confusion.

    When I initially saw the object it was a single light source which then splintered into approximately 7 light sources with tails. Unfortunately the color was hard to determin due to stratosphere light cloud cover and the fact I was driving south on IH45 south, just north of Fairfield TX.


  2. I watched it from approximately 5 degrees above the southern horizon, until the last section was visible approximately 20 degrees above the northern horizon, while in Orange, Texas. The trajectory detailed is the path I observed.

    Considering the different colors of the debris as they burned in the atmosphere, I assumed it was a man made object. This confirms what I suspected.


  3. Lorrie DeHaas says: March 11, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    I feel asleep on the couch and at around 1:30 or so I heard this very low flying noise but it sounded like the Blue Angels from the air show! The sky was very soupy with clouds..which always seems to trap noise and amplify it, however, the noise was so loud and whooshing that I awoke and wondered what it was…I glanced out the window and saw a really bright light whiz by. I’m glad I found this post because I figured it wasn’t a plane going that fast or glaring that brightly. Very cool but scary too. Especially after the Russian event.


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