Massive Fireball Streaks Midwestern Skies

Tennessee photo of the bright, fast "fireball" meteor that passed over Indiana last week.Tennessee photo of the bright, fast “fireball” meteor that passed over Indiana last week (from WKRN).

It wasn’t just any old meteor that buzzed the nation’s midsection at around 11:30 last Friday night. It was AMS Event 2132, one of 4,401 meteors and about 15 fireballs seen in September over the United States. Authorities say the number of fireballs (each with 25 or more witnesses) last month is the highest ever reported since the AMS started cataloguing sightings early in the 20th century. Another large fireball disrupted a marching band competition in Alabama on Saturday.

Over a thousand people reported sighting Friday’s magnitude -4 fireball to the American Meteor Society. It produced more views than any other meteor in the past six months. Most reports located Event 2132 over central Indiana, but it could be seen in at least in 17 other states (OH, WI, MI, VA, IN, PA, WV, KY, MD, TN, IL NY, NC, AR, ON, GA, OK, SC).

Fireballs of this magnitude, releasing about the light of a crescent moon, usually occur about once a day in earth’s skies. However, most of them show up over oceans and uninhabited land. Daylight masks many of them as well, and very few people are out to notice those that occur at night.

“Good data has been collected on only about 800 fireballs so far [over the past 50 years]. Of these, only four have been recovered on the ground as meteorites,” say James Richardson, AMS Operations Manager / Radiometeor Project Coordinator, and James Bedient, AMS Electronic Information Coordinator, in the American Meteor Society FAQ on fireballs. According to an unconfirmed report, Event 2132 may be the fifth of these.

“If you happen to see one of these memorable events, we would ask that you report it to the American Meteor Society, remembering as many details as possible,” the society’s website asks. “This will include things such as brightness, length across the sky, color, and duration (how long did it last). It is most helpful if the observer will mentally note the beginning and end points of the fireball with regard to background star constellations, or compass direction and angular elevation above the horizon.”

A nonprofit founded in 1911 to inform, encourage, and support the research activities of both amateur and professional astronomers, the American Meteor Society collates fireball reports from the entire world for use by all meteor organizations. You can also report fireballs to the International Meteor Organization, founded in 1988, another nonprofit with about 250 amateur members all over the world.

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