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Bay Area Fireball Caught on Tape [Video]


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Just before 7:45 P.M. Pacific time yesterday, as baseball fans in the San Francisco Bay Area were tuning in to the playoff game between the hometown Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, a different spectacle was playing out overhead.

A huge fireball lit up the skies over Northern California, and witnesses also heard very loud thumps that “sounded like distant artillery fire or sonic booms,” according to one of about 150 witnesses who reported a sighting to the American Meteor Society (AMS).

Earth is now heading into the peak of the Orionid meteor shower, caused by the debris trail from Halley’s Comet, but the October 17 meteor more closely resembled a piece of an asteroid than a chunk of comet, according to a post on the AMS Web site.

A security camera at Lick Observatory atop California’s Mount Hamilton caught the fireball on tape, streaking from left to right over the city lights of San Jose. As it happens, Lick is also home to one of the Cameras for All-Sky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS), an automated sky-watching network with several Northern California monitoring stations. “We are checking our CAMS camera results to see if we have a track,” an update on the CAMS Web site says. “Biggest question at the moment is whether this ended over land or ocean.” A meteor’s breakup over dry land leaves open the possibility of recovering samples for study, which can provide important information about the meteor’s origins.

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. greenhome123 7:12 pm 10/18/2012

    I saw a really bright shooting star 3 days ago. I’m in Oceanside, CA. It was in the northern sky and looked to be falling straight down low on the horizon, and looked to have burned out and broke to pieces just before it would have hit the ground. If there are any meteorites then I would guesstimate that they would be about a mile or two north of sleeping Indian mountain in Oceanside/Fallbrook area.

    Link to this
  2. 2. allpointshelp 2:52 am 10/19/2012

    I found some great meteor shower viewing information at this site: http://spacedex.com/orionids – Can’t wait for this Sunday!

    Link to this
  3. 3. karen00100 8:15 pm 10/19/2012

    Thanks allpointshelp. I have bookmarked that site.

    Link to this
  4. 4. J Hanford 10:34 am 10/22/2012

    The CAMS website is now reporting that a 63 gram meteorite from the event has been recovered in Novato California: http://cams.seti.org/

    According to a preliminary trajectory calculated by NASA researcher Peter Jenniskens(see link) the meteoroid entered the atmosphere with a speed of 14 km/s at an altitude of 85 km and was last seen at an altitude of 39 km. Jenniskens notes on Spaceweather.com that “39 km is not the end point, but the final bit captured by the San Mateo video camera.” Further study of the video records and photographs should help refine the area of the strewn field and hopefully more meteorites will be recovered.

    Link to this

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