USA Fireball – December 7, 2011

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The American Meteor Society has so far received approximately 50 reports of a dazzling fireball over much of the eastern half of the USA, stretching all the way from South Carolina to Wisconsin.  Most of the reports have come from Illinois and Ohio. This event occurred near 11:30pm EST (10:30pm CST) Wednesday evening December 7th. Reports of many different colors have been received, with white, blue, and green being most mentioned.  The average brightness reported by witnesses was in excess of the light produced by a full moon, which by coincidence, was also in the sky at the time of the fireball’s appearance.

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. 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 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 #1490 for 2011.

Clear Skies!

Robert Lunsford



  • Mana 12 years ago

    Haha I saw this last night. Looked up through my window and all of a sudden it shot by. It was traveling south and I saw it through a northern window. Immediately ran to the other side of the room and saw it disappear. Appeared to be about the same size of the moon, and same color, but was traveling extremely fast. I live in Western Kentucky by the way.

    Reply to Mana
  • Shirley Wilkin 12 years ago

    I saw a huge bright meteor on December 7, 2011, about 11:30 pm. when I was walking the dogs. It seemed so close and was beautiful, and had a bright blue and red tail. It as traveling from north to south. We live in Highland County, Ohio. Just thought you would like to know. It was something I will never forget.
    Shirley Wilkin

    Reply to Shirley
  • Dan Schweiss 12 years ago

    A friend and I also witnessed this event in Weingarten, MO. Awesome! Glad to see it’s been officially reported!

    Reply to Dan
  • robert 12 years ago

    I am in Cozumel, and saw this sucker from its rear end. It lasted a full 5 seconds, and to me was a deep orange the whole time. No sign of explosion. It was traveling SSW- NNE. I have seen many incredible falls in my life, and this was among the top 3!

    I hope someone, somewhere, caught it on video

    Reading the other reports, maybe not the same one. The one I saw was @ approx 19:45 CST

    Reply to robert
  • Erik Rasmussen 12 years ago

    My girlfriend and i also saw the amazing fireball that night, was green and blue colored, very bright, almost looked like it was going to land in the neighbors yard for a moment.

    Reply to Erik
  • Frankenmeteor 12 years ago

    I’m new to this but I thought I would comment. December 13, 2011 approximately 4:40AM at approximately 2516 Scottsville Road (traveling north on Rt 20), Charlottesville, VA I saw a relatively low flying ball traveling what appeared to be East. An in my view of a 3 foot reach the ball traveled about 3 feet before hitting the horizon.

    Reply to Frankenmeteor
  • Pearl Keim 12 years ago

    On Dec 11th, Sunday at 5:00pm while traveling east on I-70 (CO) I saw for the first time in my 73 years a green fireball! So cool! I too thought it would land on the town of Vona, Colorado which was just a few miles from me on the horizon. The fireball had a long tail, a solid front leading core, and sparks shooting from it. All green. It extingished itself in a nano second. I’ll never forget the site!!!

    Reply to Pearl
  • George Leatham 12 years ago

    On December 23rd at ~6:50 am I saw a greenish fireball while heading East in my car from Vallejo, California. It was about the size of a dime held at an arms length. The fireball was directly in front of me, moving toward the Northern horizon.

    Reply to George
  • Critter 12 years ago

    This is the second one I’ve seen. My first was in early 2000. What an amazing site to see, bright yellow, then orange ,than green, then blue with longer white tail. From my perspective it was traveling southeast to northwest. Very cool !!!! I just wish I had my kids with me to see it . – C.M.Shelly – Bethlehem,Pa.

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  • Kevin 12 years ago

    I saw the exact same fireball! I was on my way home from work, between Ft Irwin and Barstow, CA, and easily saw this monstrous object that had actually put a little fear in my eyes! I was lost with what I saw! I couldn’t explain it as I knew it wasn’t an every day thing! Nothing normally gets my attention like that! It was amazing!

    Reply to Kevin

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