Fireball seen from Orangeville remote video camera. Credit Western University.

University of Western Ontario Astronomers Capture Bright Fireball on Video

Just after 6:00 pm last Monday, a bright fireball shot across the sky, visible from Hamilton to Peterborough. A system of video cameras set up by astronomers captured video of the event which may make it possible to recover meteorite fragments.

The meteor, about the size of a basketball, first entered the atmosphere over Pennsylvania at a shallow angle of 25 degrees at 14 km per second.

It first became visible over Lake Erie then moved toward the north-northeast ending at an altitude of 31 km just south of the town of Selwyn, Ontario.
It was a clear, mild evening in Southern Ontario and the fireball was witnessed by thousands of people.

SpaceRef Canada Senior Editor Marc Boucher had a perfect view from downtown Toronto. “I was sitting in my home office working on SpaceRef and looked out the window and was shocked and then excited to see the fireball streak across the sky. I immediately tweeted it so see if anyone else had seen it and yes other people had. I’ve seen one other fireball when I lived in BC, but it was just as exciting this time around.”

Charles Darrow was driving in Georgetown when the fireball caught his eye in the sky straight ahead of him. “It was very bright with bright chunks falling off of it. It left a trail of debris”.

Six video cameras, set up as part of the University of Western Ontario’s Southern Ontario Meteor Network, captured the event. By comparing the videos of the same fireball, taken from multiple sites, astronomers can triangulate and accurately determine the path. Once this is known, they can predict where any meteoric fragments may have fallen, if they survived the entry through the atmosphere. It is likely to have dropped small meteorites in a region to the east of Selwyn near the eastern end of Upper Stony Lake.

The video data suggest an end mass that may total as much as a few kilograms, likely in the form of many fragments in one gram to hundreds of a gram size range.

“Finding a meteorite from a fireball captured by video is equivalent to a planetary sample return mission,” says Peter Brown, the Director of Western’s Centre for Planetary & Space Exploration.

“We know where the object comes from in our solar system and can study it in the lab. Only about a dozen previous meteorite falls have had their orbits measured by cameras so each new event adds significantly to our understanding of the small bodies in the solar system. In essence, each new recovered meteorite is adding to our understanding of the formation and evolution of our own solar system.”

Researchers at Western and the Royal Ontario Museum are interested in hearing from anyone who may have witnessed or recorded this evening event, or who may have found fragments of the freshly fallen meteorite.

About Randy Attwood

Amateur astronomer, astrophotographer, space exploration historian. Executive Director, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada / Publisher - SkyNews magazine.

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